Metabolic Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Side view of a woman checking her glucose levels with an insulin pen.
Metabolic Syndrome and the Glucose Levels

Metabolic syndrome isn’t just a single syndrome, it’s more like multiple metabolic glitches that predispose you to health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular troubles, and strokes.  It’s a couple of factors: obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and abnormal lipid levels – that can make life more complicated health-wise.  Think of metabolic syndrome as a health red flag, waving frantically to grab your attention before things get downhill. So let’s dive into what causes it, what it looks like, and how to tackle it head-on.

Table of Contents

    What Exactly is Metabolic Syndrome? Why is this important?

    It’s not one issue but a handful of metabolic glitches. To pin it down, doctors look for at least three of these risk factors: (RED FLAGS)

    Is that Waistline That’s Bulging?

    Simple enough, a waistline of more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is a sign of metabolic syndrome. That means the organs in the abdomen are being padded with excess fat. Managing belly fat through a balanced diet is crucial in mitigating this risk.

    Blood Pressure on the Rise: 

    If your blood pressure is more than 130/85 mmHg or higher, it’s time to take note! The goal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. Let’s say you walk into a CVS or Walgreens or maybe a health fair and check your blood pressure at random, if your top number is creeping into the 130s and the bottom number starts to drift into the 90s, HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM!!!!!

    Understanding the impact of dietary fats can help manage blood pressure levels.

    Blood Sugar Levels Racking Up?

    It’s a cause for big concern when checking your fasting glucose levels and they shoot past 100 mg/dL. What is the fasting glucose level? That means if your body is in a state of fasting (after sleeping for hopefully 7- 8 hours or not eating all day) and you test your blood sugar if it is greater than 100, that’s a sign of insulin resistance. Balancing your intake of carbohydrates is essential for glucose control.

    Triglycerides in Overdrive: 

    During your annual checking, ask your doctor (primary care physician) to check your lipid levels (also called lipid panel), if your triglyceride levels hit 150 mg/dL or higher that’s no bueno. Time to reign in those naughty fats. Incorporating more protein into your diet can help manage lipid levels.

    HDL Cholesterol Taking a Dive: 

    HDL also called your good fat, moves around your body collecting fat where fat is not supposed to be. So when your HDL is low, below 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women, that’s a red flag. No bueno. Maintaining a balanced intake of macronutrients is crucial for optimal HDL levels. Check out our detailed guidelines on How Macronutrients Influence Metabolic Health?

    Of note:

    Why are the differences in gender? Because men and women are built differently. Estrogen, the major hormone women make, is heart-protective, which means it protects women from having heart attacks. Men are expected to be bigger than women so their size (waist) will be bigger, Women are expected to be “fluffier” than men for childbearing so their fat content (HDL) is expected to be higher 

    What Factors Contribute to the Development of Metabolic Syndrome?

    Top view of a man standing on a scale, monitoring his weight reflecting on the relation between overweight and metabolic syndrome
    Monitoring Weight as a main factor for avoiding metabolic syndrome

    The root causes of metabolic syndrome are a tangled mess of bad genes, a sedentary lifestyle, and a suboptimal environment:

    Genetic Roulette:

    Sometimes, our genes roll the dice, predisposing us to metabolic mishaps like insulin resistance, bad cholesterol, and excess weight.

    Weight Woes:

    Carrying too much weight, especially around the belly, sets the stage for metabolic glitches. Visceral fat cells, the ones around the organs, that give you that nice bear belly, fupa, or love hands produce chemicals that produce inflammation. They mess with how insulin works, leading to a mess of health issues called INSULIN RESISTANCE.

    Insulin Resistance, Vicious cycle?

    You need insulin to bring sugar into the cell. When the cells are not receptive to insulin this is called insulin resistance. If cells tune out insulin’s attempts to regulate blood sugar, things go left. And if cells start ignoring insulin’s calls, your blood releases more insulin to compensate. Having too much insulin makes you feel hungry, shaky, and weak, which makes you feel more hungry. So you eat more!!! So even if you’re eating good food, the cells are not receptive to it. This is the vicious cycle of insulin resistance. Lastly, insulin resistance affects glucose control but also throws blood fats and blood pressure out of whack.

     Insulin resistance ➡️➡️➡️ High levels of Insulin ➡️➡️➡️  Eat more ➡️➡️➡️ 
    Weight Gain ➡️➡️➡️ Diabetes and other Health problems 

    Sedentary Slump: Not moving enough sets the scene for metabolic glitches. Your body is a well-oiled machine and regular exercise is what it needs to keep it greased and prevents it from breaking down. Move it or lose it! It’s like learning a skill and not practicing it? You’ll forget it! When you move your body, you release endorphins. Endorphins are natural highs that make you feel better. The more you do it, the better you feel, WHILE improving your insulin sensitivity, shedding excess pounds, and keeping your metabolism going. 

    Crummy Diets: Gorging on junk food like processed snacks, sugary drinks and soda, and deep-fried foods – lays the groundwork for metabolic glitches. Loading up on refined sugars and unhealthy fats on a regular basis sets the stage for weight gain, insulin resistance, and cholesterol chaos. Once in a while is fine, but every week??? 

    Meal prepping can help create a healthier environment by ensuring nutritious meals. Check our Latest Article about Meal Prep: Guide to Healthy Eating Amid A Busy Life.

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    What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome?

    The issue with metabolic syndrome is you don’t know you have it until it’s too late. But there are telltale red flags to watch out for!

    • Increased weight gain especially around your middle, trunk, or torso that over cushions your organs
    • Increased blood pressure means you need more pressure to get blood to every part of your body.
    • Higher blood sugar levels, even when fasting mean insulin resistance
    • Elevated cholesterol means fat is hanging around our arteries clogging up the pipes that blood is supposed to run in 

    Managing stress effectively can help mitigate its silent progression. Therefore, we recommend you to read our Stress: How Can You Reclaim Control Over it to Achieve Metabolic Wellness?

    What Health Complications are Associated with Metabolic Syndrome?

    Metabolic syndrome isn’t just a harbinger of doom; it’s a one-way ticket to health headaches, including:

    Diabetes: If insulin resistance comes knocking, diabetes is around the corner

    Heart Diseases: Heart Woes: Metabolic syndrome rolls out a mat for heart disease, like heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, and peripheral artery disease

    Liver Disease: Your liver is the best friend a body can have. Processing toxins and getting rid of them to keep you healthy…to a point. There’s only so much fat it can process. Ultimately too much fat in the liver leads to inflammation, fibrosis, and even cirrhosis of the liver. 

    Kidney Concerns: Metabolic syndrome can lead to kidney issues in two different ways, in increased blood sugar and increased blood pressure, if not kept in check can lead to kidney disease and kidney failure, leading to needing dialysis or kidney transplant
    Sleep Sorrow: Obesity-related sleep disturbances, like sleep apnea, are more common in folks with metabolic syndrome, adding fuel to the fire of metabolic glitches and health risks.

    What Strategies Can Be Implemented to Address Metabolic Syndrome?

    The game plan for dealing with metabolic syndrome is pretty straightforward, here’s the medicine playbook:

    Shedding Pounds: Dropping excess weight – even just a bit – losing just 5% of your body weight can work wonders for insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and heart health.

    Tinkering with Diets: Ditch the junk and embrace a diet brimming with veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, fresh fruits, and good fats. Say no to processed foods, sugary drinks, and salt-heavy snacks to keep blood fats and pressure in check.

    Moving More: Get that body moving with regular exercise. Aim for AT LEAST 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous workouts each week, along with muscle-strengthening exercises.

    Keeping Tabs: Regular checks on blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and waist size are a must. How will you know you’re improving if you don’t monitor it? Team up with healthcare professionals to fine-tune your plan to prevent metabolic glitches.

    Medication Mayhem: Sometimes medication are needed to rein in crazy high blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar. These medications work with reducing your weight, improving your diet, and getting activity. There is no magic pill in the world that will work if you’re heavier than your body can manage, your diet is a mess and you don’t move your body regularly. 

    A pill can’t heal you, it will treat you but it won’t heal you.

    What heals you is doing the work.

    TAKE YOUR MEDS, and work on yourself!  Over time, you might just find your blood pressure, blood sugar, and lipid levels better controlled and one day get off these medications. Talk to your doctor about making a plan on what and how you need to do to tape off medications once you have reached your health goals. 

    Let’s wrap this up

    Metabolic syndrome is like a puzzle with many pieces, but cracking the code is key to warding off diabetes and other health. By understanding the ins and outs of this metabolic map, you can take charge of your health, slash your heart risks, and boost your well-being. It’s all about making smart choices – from what’s on your plate to how often you move – to keep metabolic disruptions at bay, take control of your health, and pave the way for a happier you.

    Metabolic Health References:

    National Institutes of Health, Diagnosis and management of the metabolic syndrome.

    american diabetes association, The Metabolic Syndrome: Time for a Critical Appraisal
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