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Metabolic Syndrome - A Low-Profile, High-Risk Combination of Disorders

Armen Hareyan's picture

Metabolic Syndrome

While the obesity epidemic garners headlines, you may not have heard of metabolic syndrome. Yet this health threat affects 47 million adults in the United States, according to the July issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource.

The low profile may be because metabolic syndrome isn't a disease, but a cluster of disorders of your body's metabolism - including high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, excess body weight and abnormal lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels.

Doctors have talked about this group of risk factors for years, calling it everything from syndrome X to insulin resistance. Although the cause of metabolic syndrome is under debate, doctors recognize the association between the syndrome and the body's resistance to insulin - a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates sugar in your blood. Insulin resistance means your body churns out more and more insulin - and you're on your way to type 2 diabetes.

Because metabolic syndrome is widespread - affecting 40 percent of Americans over age 60 - the focus is no longer on what to call the syndrome. Instead, it's on identifying and treating the syndrome's causes and consequences before life-threatening illness develops. The primary goal of treatment is to prevent type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke. Prevention involves these changes:

  • Lose weight: Losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight can lower blood pressure, decrease your triglycerides, raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level (the "good" kind) and reduce your percent of body weight due to fat.

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  • Exercise: Physical activity improves insulin resistance, increases HDL and burns calories.

  • Stop smoking: Smoking increases insulin resistance and worsens the health consequences of metabolic syndrome.

  • Eat fiber-rich foods: Fiber can lower insulin levels.

  • Work with your doctor: Your doctor could prescribe any of several medications depending on your risk factors.

While metabolic syndrome often doesn't get much attention, if your doctor uses the term, it's important to take steps to reduce your risk of life-threatening illnesses.