At Radiantly Healthy MD in Indialantic, Florida we are passionate about preventing and reversing metabolic syndrome in our patients. One of the first steps in preventing heart disease is reducing your risk of metabolic syndrome, as this condition is largely associated with the development of both heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is responsible for 635,260 deaths per year, or 23% of the total deaths annually. While genetics plays a role in the development of heart disease, this disease is largely related to lifestyle choices and can be prevented in many cases. Do not resign yourself to being a statistic. There are many controllable risk factors that can help reduce the risk of developing both metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic Syndrome is a combination of at least 3 medical conditions which increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. People diagnosed with metabolic syndrome present with at least 3 out of the 5 following metabolic abnormalities:
- An enlarged waist circumference
- Low HDL cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- High fasting blood glucose
- Elevated blood pressure
Do you fall into any of the above categories?
An enlarged waistline includes a waist measurement greater than or equal to 35 inches in women, or 40 inches for men.
HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol, thus higher levels are protective against heart disease. An HDL below 50 mg/dL in women and below 40 mg/dL in men is considered too low.
Triglycerides are created when fat circulates through your bloodstream. A triglyceride level greater than 149 mg/dL is considered too high.
Any fasting blood glucose test measures the amount of sugar in your blood after you have gone at least 8 hours without eating. A result over 100 mg/dL is considered a risk factor for metabolic syndrome.
Lastly, a blood pressure reading of 130/85 mmHg of higher is considered elevated. The term mg/dL is the unit used to measure cholesterol and sugar levels in the blood.
The complications associated with metabolic syndrome include heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, heart attacks, and stroke. A provider at Radiantly Healthy MD can help you better interpret your laboratory values and identify your risk for metabolic syndrome.
Who Is at Risk for Metabolic Syndrome?
Due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors, some people have a higher risk for developing metabolic syndrome than others. Some risk factors are controllable. For example, a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for metabolic syndrome. Poor dietary habits also play a role in unwanted weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and cholesterol imbalances. Smoking appears to be an additional risk factor.
However, not all risk factors for metabolic syndrome can be controlled. Age, family history of metabolic syndrome, and a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome can also increase your risk for developing metabolic syndrome.
Can Metabolic Syndrome Be Reversed?
In short, yes. Metabolic Syndrome is treatable, most often through a combination of lifestyle changes and medications when necessary. The goals for metabolic syndrome reversal include modest weight loss, improved eating habits, and increased physical activity. Stress and sleep also play a role.
Even just modest weight loss, as little as 7% to 10% of your current body weight, can lead to significant improvements in metabolic syndrome. Weight loss is most often accomplished through increasing physical activity and improving your eating habits.
When necessary your doctor may also prescribe medications to help combat metabolic syndrome. Continue reading for more information about these topics. Good weight loss results in a reduction of harmful abdominal fat in particular.
When it comes to improving cholesterol levels and blood glucose values, nutrition can play a large role. Some key factors to consider in your current eating habits are the fats, fiber, and sugar you are eating on a regular basis.
Fat can be a confusing concept for many. In the past, all fat was considered “bad”, leading to an influx of a huge variety of low-fat products in grocery stores. However, it is not that simple. In fact, some types of fats can actually help improve your cholesterol levels. “Good fats” are commonly found in nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, olives and olive oil, and in unprocessed, free-range meats.
On the other hand, tans-fats should be avoided at all times, as intake of these will negatively impact cholesterol levels. Trans-fats are often found in store-bought baked goods, Crisco, packaged snack foods, cheap nut butters, and fast food. Always check the ingredients label for the words “fully-hydrogenated oils” or “partially-hydrogenated oils,” as this indicated the presence of trans-fatty acids.
Unfortunately the nutrition facts panel does not have to report trans-fats in trace amounts, so these harmful fats can add up unless the ingredients labels are checked.
Fiber is another beneficial nutrient that can help improve both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The standard American diet is not sufficient in fiber, which is found in fruits (excluding fruit juice), vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Another benefit of fiber is that it is slow to digest, which helps people feel fuller longer. Recommended fiber intake depends on age and gender, but typically falls somewhere between 21-38 grams daily.
A high intake of added/processed sugars can also have a negative impact on both blood glucose and cholesterol/triglyceride levels. Added sugars are any sweetener added as part of the manufacturing process (i.e. not naturally occurring, such as the natural sugar found in milk or fruit).
Unfortunately, up to 75% of the foods found in grocery stores have sugar added. Sometimes the presence of sugar is obvious, such as the sugar found in cakes, cupcakes, brownies, cookies, candy, ice cream, and frozen yogurt. However, sugar may also be present in foods that are more surprising, like ketchup, bread, pasta sauce, and crackers.
To make matters worse, sugar has many names, such as evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, or sucrose, to name just a few. These code names make it even more difficult to detect this harmful ingredient in food. The easiest way to limit added sugars is to avoid processed foods as much as possible and cook from scratch using whole food ingredients.
Exercise is an effective cure for metabolic syndrome because it promotes weight loss, improves blood pressure and cholesterol, and lowers blood sugar levels. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans stress the importance of moving more and sitting less and acknowledge that any amount of activity is better than none at all.
However, for the most benefits, they recommend aiming for 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week. Of course, the more a person exercises, the greater the benefits will be, so it is okay to exceed 300 minutes of activity per week if able.
Aerobic activity is any activity that increases your heart rate. This could include walking, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, dancing, or skating. Besides aerobic activity, strength training can provide further benefits towards reversing metabolic syndrome. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourage aiming for strength training on 2 or more days each week. Speak with your healthcare provider before starting a physical activity program, especially if you have a history of prior injuries or a heart condition.
There are some instances where lifestyle changes alone are not sufficient in controlling metabolic syndrome. This could be due to genetics or the progression of the disease, or other factors. The class of medications most often prescribed for lowering cholesterol is called statins. For people who have diabetes or pre-diabetes, a doctor may prescribe a blood sugar lowering medication such as metformin.
Other drugs may help promote weight loss and improve waist circumference. There are also several different classes of medications that play a role in lower blood pressure. Most medications work best when combined with the healthy lifestyle choices discussed above. If a doctor has prescribed a medication, be sure to take it as directed and avoid missing doses. Some medications need to be taken at a certain time of day or with a meal, so be sure to carefully review the instructions when starting a new medication.
Stress management is an important component of an integrative healthcare plan. Chronic stress can play a role in increasing blood pressure and cholesterol. It also leads to insulin resistance, which can cause elevated blood sugar levels. Stress may lead to negative eating habits as many people turn to “comfort foods” or overeating as a method to cope with stress.
However, there are many positive stress management techniques that lead to better health outcomes in the long run. These could include meditation and yoga, physical activity, journaling, or massage. A mental health professional can help support anyone working to establish better stress management techniques.
Inadequate or poor-quality sleep has been linked to an increased risk for metabolic syndrome. This is especially true for people who get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. In fact, most adults need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. For those who suffer from poor sleep, here are some tips for better sleep hygiene:
- Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends
- Limit caffeine and avoid it entirely after 12pm
- Avoid screens before bed, including TVs, computers, and smartphones
- Avoid eating a large meal right before bed
- Try to avoid napping or limit to no more than 20 minutes during the day
- Keep your bedroom cool (around 67 degrees) and as dark as possible
For those who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, wearing a well-fitting CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask can improve sleep quality and prevent insulin resistance associated with sleep apnea.
Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of metabolic abnormalities, including increased waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, increased fasting blood sugars, and elevated blood pressure. Having metabolic syndrome can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and their associated complications like heart attack and stroke.
Metabolic Syndrome can be reversed through a combination of lifestyle changes and sometimes medications. Improved nutrition, especially through incorporating healthy types of fats, fiber, and reducing sugar intake, can help fight metabolic syndrome. Physical activity, including both aerobic activity and strength training, plays an important role in reversing metabolic syndrome. Striving for adequate sleep and developing healthy stress management techniques can also help improve metabolic syndrome.
In some cases, people may also need to be prescribed medications for cholesterol, blood pressure, or weight loss. Speak with an integrative healthcare provider at Radiantly Healthy MD in Indialantic, Florida for more information about lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk or reverse metabolic syndrome.