With no specific diagnosis, metabolic syndrome can be a difficult health problem to understand. Metabolic syndrome is not a disease itself but is rather a cluster of risk factors leading to cardiovascular disease. It is serious, and unfortunately is dramatically on the increase – especially among people who lead sedentary lifestyles and are overweight. The American Diabetes Association recently highlighted the fact that the increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome is likely to lead to future increases in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dr Ahmed Kissebah, a Professor of Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin commented on the recent increases; “In the past 15 years, it has gone from an observation to syndrome; now it is a worldwide phenomenon”. Taking steps now to prioritise dietary and lifestyle changes to prevent this increase is absolutely key.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Since insulin resistance is such an integral feature of metabolic syndrome, it is essential to be armed with a little more information about it. There needs to be a constant level of sugar within the blood at all times for the body and brain to be able to function, and if blood sugar levels are constantly too high this can have harmful effects on long term health. Fortunately, the body has an effective system in place to maintain blood sugar levels within a very specific range. Insulin is an important hormone, released from the pancreas, which helps to control the levels of sugar in the blood. Insulin resistance plays a key role in metabolic syndrome and refers to the diminished ability of cells to respond to the action of insulin. This means that more and more insulin must be produced to keep blood sugar levels within a safe range. Over time, the pancreas can no longer produce such high levels of insulin and blood sugar increases to a consistently high level as a result. Once this happens, insulin resistance has developed into type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is therefore a significant precursor to type 2 diabetes.
Apple body shape – why is it such bad news for your health?
Most people are aware that being overweight is associated with serious health risks but many are completely unaware that ‘body shape’ has a significant impact too.
An ‘apple-shaped’ body tends to carry fat above the waist, whereas a ‘pear-shaped’ body carries fat below. As a rough guide, men whose waist circumference is more than 40 inches, and women more than 35 inches would fall into the ‘apple’ body shape.
The bad news is that people who have an ‘apple’ body shape, where fat is literally inside the abdomen and among the internal organs, are at much higher risks of developing serious chronic health conditions if they do not make dietary and lifestyle changes to improve their shape. People with apple-shaped bodies tend to have higher rates of insulin resistance (the precursor to type 2 diabetes) and abnormal blood fat levels.
The apple body shape is a classic signal of metabolic syndrome too.
Dr Ahmed Kissebah, who led groundbreaking research in the early 1980s on the health risks associated with body shapes commented;
“Thirty years ago, we didn’t know why obesity was so dangerous and we didn’t know that certain forms of obesity were worse than others. Apple-shaped bodies have the worst impact on health. Pear-shaped people, who carry most of their weight below the waist, have lower risks of negative health effects.”
Dealing with Metabolic Syndrome
1) Early Identification
As with any health problem, the most important first step is identification, and because it is only recently that the medical profession have defined this condition, many people are still completely unaware of its existence. We are now all well aware of the importance of having regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks, but what about having regular checks for metabolic syndrome risk factors?
Early identification is vital to lessen the impact of metabolic syndrome and to reduce the associated risks of developing conditions such as stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease. Your GP will be able to help you to identify your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and even if you only have some of the symptoms, it’s well worth taking early action to prevent any further developments. Health experts agree that managing each of the symptoms individually appears to be the only truly effective method of dealing with metabolic syndrome.
2) Address Underlying Causes:
Since obesity is such a significant risk factor associated with metabolic syndrome, taking steps to reduce weight and improve body composition is an essential first step. Healthy weight loss is best targeted with a combination of dietary and lifestyle intervention. Your health care practitioner will recommend a programme including structured stress management, regular exercise, a low glycaemic, Mediterranean-style food plan and nutritional intervention specifically targeting healthy weight loss and improved body composition.
• Unhealthy Body Composition
Body composition is about much more than your weight. Your body composition is the ratio of fat to muscle and other lean tissues in your body. Improving your body composition is another significant aspect of dealing with metabolic syndrome. The good news is that by taking steps to lose weight in a healthy way as recommended by your health care practitioner your body composition will also benefit.
• Insulin Resistance & Dyslipidemia
In addition to following a low glycaemic, tailored food plan and taking positive steps to reduce weight, specific nutrients can help to support symptoms of insulin resistance and dyslipidemia. Key ingredients include plant sterols, hops and acacia. Complex metabolic powder foods combining these key ingredients with optimal ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat that can be mixed into a drink and used as a healthy snack or meal replacement are optimally recommended.
• Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Coenzyme Q10 & Vitamin E are essential nutrients for supporting balanced blood pressure and may be recommended by your healthcare practitioner as a useful adjunct in a metabolic syndrome support programme. Supplements containing CoQ10 with natural vitamin E are the best way to support optimal intake of these nutrients.
3) Ongoing Support & Prevention
Once symptoms have been stabilised and risks are reduced, it is essential that a maintenance programme is put into place to support long term optimal health. This includes continued incorporation of dietary and lifestyle changes. A low glycaemic index, soy-based, complex metabolic food can also be used as part of a healthy diet and is particularly useful as a ‘healthy & convenient fast food’, for filling snack gaps and reducing ‘junk food’ cravings.
The main features of metabolic syndrome are:
● Insulin resistance – a decreased ability for the body to process glucose effectively
● High blood pressure (hypertension)
● Cholesterol abnormalities (eg low HDL cholesterol)
● Increased risk for clotting
● High blood fats (hypertriglyceridemia)
● Overweight or obesity, in particular abdominal obesity, or ‘apple body shape’
● Unhealthy body composition