Understanding Metabolic Syndrome: Causes, Treatment, & Tips

If you have high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess abdominal fat, you could be dealing with a far bigger issue than what you may think. Metabolic syndrome is a complex health condition that affects millions of people worldwide and can lead to serious and even life-threatening health complications, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. The good news: metabolic syndrome is largely preventable and can even be reversed with a few healthy adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.

metabolic syndrome fact sheet

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome isn’t just a single health condition. It’s a metabolic disorder that occurs when you have a combination of three or more serious health issues, such as abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, or low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, occurring together. Many of these health concerns come with their own symptoms and individual risks, so you can imagine how severe the risks are when you are experiencing a cluster of them. In fact, those with metabolic syndrome have a drastically increased risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. This is because when metabolic syndrome takes hold of your body, crucial biochemical processes that are imperative for the normal functioning of your body become impaired. This puts your body in a state of serious malfunction and has a trickling effect of serious and even life-threatening risks.

Typically, a person who receives a diagnosis of this condition has at least three of these factors:

  • Fasting blood glucose of at least 100 mg/dL
  • Waist circumference of at least 35 inches for women and at least 40 inches for men
  • Serum triglycerides levels of at least 150 mg/dL
  • Blood pressure at a minimum of 135/85mmHg
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol lower than 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women

However, just because you have one or even three or more of these issues doesn’t necessarily mean you have metabolic syndrome. Although, it’s important to note that your risk for developing metabolic syndrome does become greater if you have any of these health problems as does your risk of potential complications, such as type 1 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Taking a look at your body shape can help you determine whether or not you are at risk of developing metabolic syndrome or if you may already be dealing with metabolic syndrome. Many people with metabolic syndrome often have an apple-shaped body. This means that their waistline is larger, with a significant amount of weight carried around the abdomen. People with pear-shaped bodies, where their weight is distributed more around the hips are believed to have a lower risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other complications associated with metabolic syndrome.

What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

The exact cause of metabolic syndrome isn’t really known. But here’s what we do know: it’s closely linked to overweight, obesity and inactivity, as well as insulin resistance. Now, you likely know what the first three factors are, so let’s focus on the latter for a second.

Insulin resistance means that the body isn’t using insulin as effectively as it should be to bring down glucose and triglyceride levels. Normally, when you eat food, your digestive system breaks it down into sugar. Then, insulin, which is made by your pancreas, comes in to help sugar get inside your cells so that they can use it for energy. When you have insulin resistance, the cells in the bodies don’t respond to insulin as they should, and that makes it harder for glucose to enter the cells. As a result, blood sugar levels start to rise, and the body goes into overdrive, producing more and more insulin to try and bring those levels down.

There are a variety of factors that can cause insulin resistance (as well as the three other factors mentioned previously) – from the foods you eat to how active you are throughout the day to how much sleep you get at night and so on and so forth.

So, while overweight, obesity, inactivity and insulin resistance cause metabolic syndrome, the actual causes go much deeper into your eating habits, diet, exercise and lifestyle.

What is the Treatment for Metabolic Syndrome?

The good thing about metabolic syndrome is that it is largely preventable and reversible, and it all starts with addressing the main underlying causes: a lack of physical activity, insulin resistance and excess weight. As such, making some positive changes in your diet and lifestyle is the ultimate treatment and prevention for metabolic syndrome.

Your doctor may also additional treatments or medications to help manage, reduce or prevent the complications associated with this condition. These can be effective at keeping your symptoms at bay, but it is important to take steps towards addressing the health problems at the source.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Eating a Healthy Diet

Your diet is going to be your saving grace when it comes to treating or preventing metabolic syndrome. Not only does your diet play a key role in insulin resistance and weight management, but it can also help address the health problems associated with metabolic syndrome, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels and low levels of HDL (“good”).

Typically, you want to:

  • Focus on eating more whole, real, high-quality food and drinks.
  • Try to keep your carbohydrates at around 50% of your total calorie intake and from whole grains like whole wheat bread and brown rice instead of sugar snacks and white bread.
  • Eat plenty of legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Reduce your consumption of red meats and poultry is also recommended.
  • Eat more fish (without the skin and not fried) into your meals.
  • Aim for about 30% of your daily calories to come from healthy sources of fat, such as canola oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and tree nuts.

Avoid Foods that Make Metabolic Syndrome Worse

In addition to adapting a healthier diet, there are some items that you will want to significantly reduce or completely avoid at all costs, such as:

  • Processed foods: These items, commonly found in the freezer, bags, and boxes, often lack essential nutrients and are loaded with unhealthy additives and preservatives that do far more harm than good to your well-being. These foods have also been found to increase the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome in both children and adults.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Sugar alternatives, like Splenda, may sound like the healthier option but they have been directly linked to causing diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Frequently using sugar substitutes containing aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin can also lead to weight gain, as well as the development of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Diet sodas: Any kind of soda pop isn’t recommended but many people opt for the diet versions of their favorite brands to be “healthier”. However, diet sodas are high in artificial sweeteners and other unhealthy ingredients, and have been linked to a higher risk of certain components of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
  • Trans fats: Commonly found in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats like margarine, baked goods, crackers, frostings, and coffee creamers, can raise levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. This is bad news for your waistline, heart health, and metabolic function.
  • Refined carbohydrates and sugar: Both refined carbohydrates and sugar are major contributors to high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and the development of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
  • Alcohol: Limiting alcohol consumption is essential for managing metabolic syndrome and maintaining overall good health, as it can increase blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and contribute to weight gain.

Achieving a Weight That’s Healthy For You

With overweight and obesity being two major factors for the development of metabolic syndrome, aiming to achieve a healthy weight can make a significant difference in your condition and overall health. In fact, gradual and moderate weight loss, around 5% to 10% of your body weight, can have a significant impact on your body’s ability to respond to insulin. You can achieve this by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and addressing poor eating habits. For example, if you tend to emotional eat due to stress, you’ll want to add some stress management techniques into your regime as well.

Get In Your Daily Exercise

Physical activity is a game-changer when it comes to treating or preventing metabolic syndrome as it tackles several of the main contributing factors all at once. For example, exercise helps eliminate the risk of being inactive, overweight, obese and can even improve insulin resistance. It can also help many of the other risks associated with metabolic syndrome, such as high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels and the risk of diabetes.

So, make sure you’re completing a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day. Take a brisk walk in your favourite local park, go for a swim or jump on your bike. You can also sign up for a gym membership or some local classes. Anything works – just get your body moving.

Butt Out Bad Habits

Whether it’s smoking cigarettes or emotional eating, now is the time to address those bad habits that are wreaking havoc on your health. After all, they’re called “unhealthy habits” for a reason. Not only can bad habits increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome and the complications associated with it, but they can also cause an abundance of further damage to your body.

Improve Your Daily Habits and Mental Health

In addition to eliminating unhealthy habits from your day, you’ll also want to add some healthy ones in. This includes completing activities that can reduce your stress, improve your sleep, and boost your overall mental health and wellness. Here are some tips:

  • Enjoy a calming cup of chamomile before bed.
  • Spray your linens with sleep-inducing lavender.
  • Do a brain dump in a journal to clear your mind before bed.
  • Practice deep breathing to improve sleep and reduce stress.
  • Meditate anytime – day or night – to reduce and manage stress.
  • Stretch out your body to release physical stress and tension being stored in the body.
  • Avoid tech devices at least 1 hour before you plan on going to bed.
  • Start the day and end the night by recounting three things you’re grateful for.
  • Be mindful of negative, unhelpful thoughts and change them out for positive ones.

Take Your Supplements

There are various dietary supplements available that can help improve your health and reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome or the risks associated with it. Some popular options include:

  • Antioxidant supplement: for reducing weight, blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Chromium supplements: for managing blood sugar
  • Multivitamin: for boosting your nutrients
  • Magnesium supplement: for reducing blood pressure, hyperglycemia, and hypertriglyceridemia
  • Fish oil: for managing cholesterol
  • Garlic supplement: for managing blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Potassium supplement: for managing blood pressure

All it takes is a few simple lifestyle and diet changes, and you can be making strides when it comes to preventing or treating metabolic syndrome and improving your overall health and wellness. However, it’s important to note that metabolic syndrome is a serious health condition and should not be overlooked. If you think you may be struggling with this issue or are experiencing potential complications, it is recommended to speak with your doctor.

Leave a Comment