Metabolic syndrome is a clinical condition affecting nearly half of adults aged 50-60 or older, and this prevalence may continue to rise. In this article, we explore metabolic syndrome, its causes, and the importance of addressing it, with insights from diabetologists.

Metabolic Syndrome: What Is It?

Metabolic syndrome does not refer to a single disease but rather a combination of risk factors that, when present simultaneously, significantly increase the risk of various health issues. These include diabetes, cardiovascular conditions like heart attacks and strokes, and hepatic steatosis (fatty liver). Metabolic syndrome is typically diagnosed when at least three of the following conditions are present:

  • Waist circumference (inches): ≥ 40 for men, ≥ 35 for women
  • Fasting blood glucose (mg/dL): ≥ 100
  • Blood pressure (mmHg): ≥ 130/85
  • Triglycerides, fasting (mg/dL): ≥ 150
  • HDL cholesterol (mg/dL): < 40 for men, < 50 for women

Metabolic Syndrome: What Causes It?

The risk of developing metabolic syndrome is closely linked to factors like excess weight and obesity, often stemming from poor lifestyle choices, including reduced physical activity, an unhealthy diet, and potential alcohol or drug abuse. Excessive abdominal fat can lead to disrupted fat and sugar metabolism, sparking chronic inflammation that can result in insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia.

In the presence of insulin resistance, cells demand more insulin (hyperinsulinemia) to absorb glucose and maintain normal blood sugar levels. This puts the pancreas’s beta cells, responsible for insulin production, under considerable strain, paving the way for diabetes development. Adipose tissue, considered an active player in regulating physiological and pathological processes, including inflammation, further complicates matters. Increased visceral fat triggers inflammation, promoting atherosclerosis in blood vessels and elevating the risk of cardiovascular disease.

How to Combat Metabolic Syndrome?

Prevention is the most effective way to tackle metabolic syndrome, primarily revolving around:

  • Maintaining a proper lifestyle, which means avoiding smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol and sugary drinks.
  • Sustaining a healthy weight.
  • Engaging in regular physical activity.
  • Adhering to a balanced diet.

Breaking down the day into three main meals and two snacks (mid-morning and mid-afternoon) can help control glycemic spikes induced by the consumption of simple carbohydrates, which trigger pancreatic insulin secretion and subsequently foster the production of inflammatory state-promoting growth factors.

Regular physical activity plays a pivotal role in counteracting metabolic syndrome as it helps rectify its characteristic changes:

  • Increases calorie expenditure.
  • Promotes glucose utilization in muscles, enhancing insulin action and reducing blood glucose.
  • Lowers triglycerides and raises HDL cholesterol.
  • Reduces blood pressure.

Try out at least 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity at least five days a week, including brisk walking, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, elliptical workouts, using an exercise bike, or dancing. Furthermore, combatting sedentary habits in daily life can contribute significantly. Opt for stairs over elevators, walk or cycle instead of driving when possible, park farther from your destination to incorporate some extra walking, and limit prolonged sitting.

When to Consult a Specialist?

Regular visits to your general practitioner are essential to assess your overall health and receive guidance on managing physical activity and maintaining a balanced diet. Periodic measurements of weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, and specific blood tests (blood glucose, total cholesterol, HDL, triglycerides) should be part of your healthcare routine.

If desired outcomes aren’t achieved with this approach, specialist consultations may be necessary, depending on the issue that needs addressing. These specialists might include a diabetologist for elevated blood glucose, a dietitian or nutritionist for weight control, or a cardiologist for hypertension management.