Metabolic syndrome: The Silent Slayer

The Criteria

Several medical disorders are responsible for Metabolic Syndrome. Medical experts agree that certain criteria must be met for an individual to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, formerly called Syndrome X. The National Cholesterol Education Program of the Blood, Lung, and Heart Institute has developed this generally accepted criteria. When three or more are met, you may be diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome.

  • Abdominal obesity- waist circumference at the umbilicus area of over 35 inches in women, and more than 40 inches  in men
  • High fasting blood sugar (FBS)- an FBS of more than 100mg/dl
  • Low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol- blood HDL levels below 50 mg/dl in women, and 40mg/dl in men
  • High triglycerides- blood triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dl
  • Elevated blood pressure- when your blood pressure (BP) is more than 130mmHg systolic (top value in BP reading) or 85 mmHg diastolic (bottom value)

Possible Causes​

Environmental and genetic factors linked to obesity, such as lack of physical activity, stress, and smoking, can contribute to the risk of developing MS. Evidence shows that abdominal obesity associated with excessive levels of insulin relative to blood sugar levels, along with the body’s inefficiency to utilize insulin, may eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. The relationship between these  factors plays a role in the development of the cardinal features of MS including high blood pressure, abnormal lipid profile (cholesterol and triglycerides) and damage to the lining of blood vessels. If left untreated, this state can result in the development of potentially fatal heart and blood vessel diseases.

There are no specific causes in literature. Many experts, however, consider the body’s inability to use insulin adequatelyknown as “insulin resistance” as the primary defect leading to MS. The secondary culprits identified are physical inactivity and obesity, followed by related factors including aging (where the risk increases with advancing age), and a person’s DNA or genetic make-up.

Complications that Complicate Things Further​

MS may give rise to several complications, which can be fatal if left untreated. Thus, if you are suspected or diagnosed with MS, it’s best to take action before things get too late. The following are complications associated with MS:

  • Atherosclerosis- the “hardening” of blood vessels (particularly the arteries) due to a build-up of plaques composed mainly of cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes- your body’s insulin is not working as effectively as it should, causing your blood sugar levels to elevate higher than normal
  • Stroke- occurs when a blood vessel (an artery) that is within or leads to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures
  • Kidney disease- damage to the kidneys that can lead to excess fluid and waste build-up in the body
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver- a disease that is typically due to fat building up in the liver
  • Cardiovascular diseases- these are serious heart and blood vessel disorders. For MS, this commonly refers to “coronary artery disease,” where there are problems with arteries that carry blood to the heart muscles
  • Heart attack- a sudden and sometimes deadly occurrence where the blood supply to the heart is blocked, possibly as a result of a clot

Risk factors​

  • The following have shown to increase the susceptibility, risk, or likelihood of MS:
    Impaired glucose tolerance- also known as the pre-diabetic state
  • High insulin levels- excessive levels of insulin relative to the level of circulating blood sugar
  • Elevated blood fats (triglycerides)- high levels of lipids or fats in the bloodstream
  • Low “good” HDL cholesterol- this is associated with a higher affinity for death from heart-related causes
  • Slow clearance of fats from the blood- refers to the abnormally slow removal of excessive concentrations of blood fats especially after meals
  • More dense, smaller “bad” LDL cholesterol- considered an emerging risk for developing blockages in the arteries
  • Increased tendency to form blood clots- excessive blood clotting also know as “coagulation” (blood changes from a liquid to a gel) that can lead to blocked or limited blood flow, damaging body organs or even causing death
  • Low ability to dissolve blood clots- also associated with increased occurrence of heart-related disorders or deaths
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Cigarette smoking

Cardiovascular diseases​

Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) diseases, which generally point to conditions that involve blocked or narrowed blood vessels, are perhaps the most feared and severe complications of MS and are the leading causes of death in the US. These encompass stroke and heart attack. Other organs can also be affected. The major forms include:

  •  Coronary artery disease- can lead to a heart attack
  • Peripheral arterial disease- refers to “hardening of the arteries” or blockage in the blood vessels of the legs which can result in amputation
  • Carotid artery disease- can lead to stroke
  • Renal vascular disease- can result in kidney failure

Blood tests​

Are you wondering if you have MS? Your physician can order some blood tests for you, especially if you are high risk for the condition. Since there is no single test that medical doctors can utilize, you are screened for each of the disorders that comprise MS. Blood tests for FBS and lipid profile (triglyceride and cholesterol levels) are done in a laboratory after fasting. As preparation, you will be instructed to fast from eating and drinking typically for 6-8 hours for FBS, and 10-12 hours for the lipid profile test.

Are you an apple or a pear?​

Although genetics plays a role in determining body shape, other factors are also crucial, including age and gender. Generally, men end up with a fat belly, while women gain excess weight around the buttocks. After menopause, women will start to store more fat around the abdomen area changing their body shape to an apple-shaped form–consequently increasing women’s risk for both MS and cardiovascular disease.​

To determine if you’re apple-shaped or pear-shaped, you have to know your waist-to-hip ratio. Simply divide your waist measurement (the narrowest point) by your hip measurement (the widest point). For women, if this value is more than 0.8, or more than 1.0 for men, you are considered apple-shaped.Otherwise, you may be a pear. If you’re apple-shaped, studies show you are at increased health risk!

The Treatment: A Simple Plan for a Complex Syndrome

Fortunately, a simple treatment plan backed by good science and research has been found to work on MS and all itsrisk factors. Let’s take a closer look at this six-step plan.

Step 1. Diagnosis

It’s fairly easy to discover whether you have MS or not. Work with your doctor to identify MS through five simple tests, namely: the glucose tolerance test, triglycerides (blood fats), HDL and LDL cholesterol, BP, and weight check.

Step 2. Diet

If you have MS, you can start on a low-carbohydrate diet that’s high in fiber to reduce your body’s demand for insulin. Consult with your dietician in planning well-proportioned meals. Carbohydrates with high-glycemic indexes should be avoided, if not eliminated. Fill your system with plenty of pure water instead. Go for fish and game meat instead of pork, beef, or other meat high in saturated fat. Use olive oil or margarine without the trans fat to replace butter. A potent multivitamin containing vitamins C and E are recommended; as well as chromium, which enhances the efficiency of insulin.Additionally, the intake of zinc, magnesium, and calcium are essential to optimize insulin sensitivity. Stay away from hydrogenated oils that are ample in processed food and most offerings in fast-food chains. ​

Step 3. Weight Loss

Shed off extra pounds with regular exercise and prudent eating. You can still enjoy delicious meals that are not harmful to your body. Consult your dietician for healthy options that will keep you within your ideal body weight. Start slimming down today if you are on the obese side to help lower your insulin levels, and increase insulin’s efficiency in your body. Remember that obesity is a universal risk for heart disease.

Step 4. Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the best medicines for MS. With exercise, you burn extra calories, and get to target your ideal weight. Do you know that simple physical inactivity contributes to the development of MS? So, start burning fat today. It’s as simple as walking briskly for 30 minutes, dancing for 30 minutes, or riding a bike for 5 miles in 30 minutes. Adding weight training to your program will make it even better. Go get up, get out, and get going!

Step 5. Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Lifestyle habits need to be put in place. First on the list is tohave a good, full-night sleep consistently. Broken, erratic sleep schedules or lack of sleep all aggravate MS. Secondly, stress reduction is crucial to reduce levels of “cortisol,” the stress hormone, in your system.
Do you know that meditation, listening to music, Tai Chi, yoga, or progressive relaxation have been found to reduce the stress hormone significantly? Peace of mind associated with spiritual convictions and hearty laughter also reduces cortisol. And importantly, eliminate those bad habits including smoking, excessive alcohol intake, affinity to high-fructose sodas, sitting in-front of the television for hours while nibbling on sweets, popcorn or chips; keep off the “marijuana munchies” as all these contribute to irreversible damage.

Step 6. Medical Intervention

If going through the first five steps, do not normalize the deranged values in your blood associated with MS, medication, as prescribed by your physician, may be needed. Talk to your doctor to know the drugs that best fit your condition. For instance, some medications given to lower BP can elevate your triglyceride and LDL, while lowering your HDL. Go for medicines that complement your efforts to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Gender difference

Evidence shows that the prevalence of MS differs withgender. In the US, there has been a significant increase in the incidence of MS in women compared to men. Interestingly, over a decade ago, most studies in the US revealed men to be more prone to the condition than women. This could perhaps be explained by the constant rise of obesity in women.
In a recent study, increased waist circumference (central obesity) and low “good” HDL cholesterol have been found morein women than men; while triglycerides and BP were relatively the same for both genders. Another study shows that MS is associated with physical inactivity in both normal and overweight women and also in overweight men. This suggeststhe high value of exercise among women.

Can MS be reversed?​

A diagnosis of MS is not a death sentence but it can be if you take too long to get treatment. MS can be reversed through two very doable and powerful ways: weight loss and physical activity. Additionally, with the help of medications to treat the specific disorders in MS, persons with MS can live quality lives sustained by healthy living, a well-balanced diet, good sleep, and a daily active and positive prognosis.