What is metabolic syndrome?

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What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is quite common. Approximately 20%-30% of the population in industrialized countries have metabolic syndrome. The expectation is that 50. -75 million people in the US alone will be affected by 2010.

Metabolic syndrome (also known as syndrome X or the dysmetabolic syndrome) is a combination of metabolic risk factors seen at one given time is a person. This constellation of risks factors leads to cardiovascular disease.

The main features of metabolic syndrome include insulin resistance, hypertension (elevated blood pressure), cholesterol abnormalities, and an increased risk for clotting. In general these patients are most often overweight or obese.

Insulin resistance refers to the diminished ability of cells to respond to the action of insulin in promoting the transport of the glucose (sugar), from blood into muscles and other tissues

What are the causes of metabolic syndrome?

Low activity level as in a sedentary lifestyle and a progressive weight gain contribute significantly to the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome.

Genetic factors such as a family history that includes type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and early heart disease greatly increases the chance that an individual will develop the metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is present in about 5% of people with normal body weight, 22% of those who are overweight and 60% of those considered obese. Adults who continue to gain five or more pounds per year raise their risk of developing metabolic syndrome by up to 45%.

While obesity itself is likely the greatest risk factor, others factors of concern include: women who are post-menopausal; smoking; eating an excessively high carbohydrate diet; lack of activity (even without weight change), and consuming an alcohol-free diet.

How do you know if you have metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome has different definitions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) any three of the problems bellow defines metabolic syndrome:

  • High insulin levels, an elevated fasting blood glucose or an elevated post meal glucose alone with at least 2 of the following criteria:
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) Abdominal obesity of at least 30 kg/m2; Abdominal Obesity as defined by a waist to hip ratio of greater than 0.9; or a waist measurement over 37 inches:
  • Lipid profile demonstrating a triglyceride level of at least 150 mg/dl or an HDL cholesterol lower than 35 mg/dl.
  • Blood pressure of 140/90 or above (or on treatment for high blood pressure).

According to the guidelines from the 2001 National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel (ATP III), any three of the following traits in the same individual meet the criteria for the metabolic syndrome:

  • Abdominal obesity: a waist circumference over 102 cm (40 in) in men and over 88 cm (35 inches) in women.
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or more.
  • Triglycerides levels of 150 mg/dl or above.
  • HDL cholesterol 40mg/dl or lower in men and 50mg/dl or lower in women.
  • Fasting blood glucose of 110 mg/dl or above.

Why should you know about metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is worth preventing or treating because it is highly associated with diabetes and heart disease. The two diseases are the most common and important chronic diseases today.

Metabolic syndrome can increases your chance of having type 2 diabetes (the common type of diabetes) in 9-30 times over a normal person. Heart problems can increase in 2-4 times compared to a normal person. It is also associated with fatty liver disease resulting in hepatitis and potential for cirrhosis. The kidneys can also be affected, causing leak of albumin in the urine (microalbuminuria), one of the first signs of kidney damage.

Other problems associated with metabolic syndrome include polycystic ovary syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, increased risk of dementia with aging, and cognitive decline in the elderly.


The treatment of metabolic syndrome consists in reversing the causes and the traits that define the disease. It is imperative that it is done in a continue and definitive fashion.

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