Ever Heard of the Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X?

The metabolic syndrome, otherwise known as the all-popular syndrome X, is not a disease but a group of characteristics, which in combination increase your risk of developing heart disease and type II diabetes. The characteristics that are referred to include high blood pressure, high levels of fat in the blood, obesity, high blood sugar levels. Keeping your cholesterol, weight, blood sugar and triglyceride levels under controlled levels will help you to live longer and will decrease your risk of stroke and heart attack.

As mentioned above the metabolic syndrome is a group of characteristics. The important thing to realise is that you do not need to have all of these to have it, although someone with one of the characteristics is much more likely to have others. Most doctors diagnose the metabolic syndrome as the presence of three or more of the following characteristics in a person:

  1. Increased blood pressure (130/85 or higher) or if you are on medication for high blood pressure.
  2. An impaired fasting glucose test (fasting blood sugar of 100 to 125 mg/dL).
  3. The presence of an increased fasting level of triglycerides (greater than 150 to 180 mg/dL) and/or decreased fasting HDL cholesterol (less than 40 mg/ for men or 50 mg/dL for women), or if you take medication for high triglycerides or low HDL cholesterol.
  4. Being obese is also a risk factor. Particularly if the fat is situated around the abdominal area i.e. having a waist size of greater than 38-41 inches in men or greater than 32 inches in women.

The metabolic syndrome is becoming more and more common especially in developed countries such as the US. In a study performed between 1988 and 1994, 22% of participants had the metabolic syndrome. In another study between 1999 and 2002, more than 34% of participants had the metabolic syndrome.

There are particular factors that are thought to be causing the increase in people with syndrome X which include: Increasing age of the population, smoking, eating a high carbohydrate diet, being overweight, lack of physical activity and a family history of metabolic syndrome or diabetes.

The main problem with the metabolic syndrome is that those who have it are at a high risk of developing many adverse medical conditions including some of the following:

Heart disease– Those with the metabolic syndrome are at a higher risk of developing heart disease including high blood pressure, fatty plaques within the vessels of the heart or blood vessels leading to the brain. These conditions can in turn lead to stroke, chest pain (angina), heart attack and death.

Diabetes– People with the metabolic syndrome have a much higher rate of developing type II diabetes. The problem with having this condition is that you are at a much higher risk of going blind, losing feeling in your feet, kidney failure and a host of other complications.

The metabolic syndrome is diagnosed based upon a physical examination by your doctor and measurement of fasting (before breakfast) blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

But don’t worry all is not lost if you have the metabolic syndrome as there is treatment. However it is highly dependent on you and how much you value your own health. The aims of treatment include dealing with the underlying characteristics that gave you the condition in the first place. These include losing weight and becoming more active. However fear not as your wonderful doctors will help you by prescribing medications to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Diet and exercise are the cornerstone treatments in the metabolic syndrome. One should increase the amount of physical activity that they do to lose weight and ones diet should be low in fat and cholesterol. There are particular diets that may be more helpful than others though:

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet can help to lower blood pressure, fats, weight and fasting blood sugars. The DASH diet requires the person to eat no more than 2400 mg of sodium per day, four to five servings of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, two to three servings of low-fat dairy products, and all foods must contain less than 25 percent total fat per serving. It is not the most palatable diets in the world but will certainly help you to live a lot longer.

The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil. This diet can help to lower blood pressure, fats, weight and improve insulin resistance.

Exercise is always the number one intervention and can assist in weight loss and can also help to shrink ones tummy, especially in women. At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, most days of the week should be plenty to get the weight moving in the right direction. Losing weight and staying active can even reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol increase the risk of disease in the vessels of the heart. In people with metabolic syndrome, an LDL level of less than 80 to 100 mg/dL is recommended. Medications can be charted to assist you with this if you cannot quite reduce the levels through exercise and weight loss.

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is an important goal, especially in people with the metabolic syndrome. We can define high blood pressure as a reading of greater than 140/80 mmHg. If diet and weight loss do not adequately reduce your blood pressure, one or more blood pressure medications may be recommended.

Smoking definitely increases the risk of heart disease, and has many other health risks as well. You and your family are strongly advised to stop cigarette smoking, although that recommendation probably comes as no surprise. In conclusion the metabolic syndrome can lead to some pretty serious complications and although diet and exercise can be tough, in the grand scheme of things you’ll probably find your life is probably worth it.

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