What is Metabolic Syndrome?
The term metabolic syndrome refers to a group of metabolic conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and even different types of cancer (x). One condition alone is serious, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to metabolic syndrome. However, a combination of the risk factors does translate to metabolic syndrome and they increase the risk for further chronic conditions (x). Metabolic syndrome is becoming more common, affecting close to one third of adults. One of the best ways to combat and prevent metabolic syndrome is by implementing lifestyle changes to reduce the risk (x).
Defining & Diagnosing Metabolic Syndrome
Because metabolic syndrome is a cluster of disorders, it does not have any specific immediate symptoms. However, there are guidelines that physicians use to define it. According to the American Heart Association, diagnosis includes a combination of three or more of the following factors (x, x):
- Dyslipidemia (abnormal lipid levels)
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Abdominal obesity
The components of this condition usually develop slowly with time. However, patients that suspect that they may have any of the factors should consult a doctor to help make the diagnosis. Because there are no specific signs or symptoms, doctors will need to perform multiple different diagnostic tests to test for these defining factors in order to come to a concrete conclusion. Some of the diagnostic tests for metabolic syndrome include blood pressure tests, cholesterol tests, blood glucose tests and lipid profile tests.
Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome
There is no specific cause for metabolic syndrome because it includes a combination of different metabolic risk factors. Some of these risk factors include insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance, unhealthy lifestyle, obesity and smoking (x).
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body break down glucose into energy or stores it as body fat. However, in some cases, the insulin does not function properly and it turns into a condition called insulin resistance. This condition causes the glucose levels to rise and the body produces more insulin to break it down. The insulin builds up in the blood and cause high blood sugar. Insulin resistance is directly linked to type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes and prediabetes (x).
There are no initial symptoms, but eventually patients develop symptoms when it affects blood pressure, including brain fog, lethargy and belly fat. Experts notice that patients also have inflammation in the body, as well as large amounts of fat in the liver and pancreas.
Risk Factors for Insulin Resistance
Medical researchers do not know exactly what causes insulin resistance, but there are several risk factors that physicians have identified, including chronic stress, polycystic ovary syndrome, long-term steroid use, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity.
Insulin resistance also results from lifestyle factors, such as a high fat and high sugar diet. Other factors that may cause insulin resistance include smoking, aging, alcoholism and lack of exercise. Another risk factor for insulin resistance is obesity, which is also linked to metabolic syndrome (x, x).
There is a strong connection between obesity and metabolic syndrome. Extra fat in the body, specifically around the belly, often increases the risk for obesity and associated disorders, including metabolic syndrome. According to research, obesity is the most common factor that physicians notice in metabolic syndrome (x).
Research states that imbalances in sex hormones is related to metabolic syndrome and the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. During menopause, women experience a decline in sex steroid hormones that increases the risk of metabolic syndrome because it interferes with fat acid metabolism (x).
Sex & Ethnicity
According to research, members of some ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. In several different studies, medical researchers concluded that the condition may be less likely among black non-Hispanic men than white men. On the other hand, the risk may increase in black non-Hispanic women than white women (x, x).
Other Lifestyle Factors
Making unhealthy dietary choices can also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, as well as lack of exercise and regular smoking. The condition also runs in families and the risk increases with age (x).
Treatment for Metabolic Syndrome
According to the American Heart Association, close to one third of adults in the U.S. have metabolic syndrome (x). One of the most effective remedies for metabolic syndrome is making lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, eating healthy foods and maintaining a healthy body weight. Physicians also recommend that patients avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. In some cases, physicians may also prescribe medication to treat underlying conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol (x, x).
Diet is an important part of preventing or treating metabolic syndrome. Patients should try to implement a healthy, well-balanced diet and avoid food that may worsen the condition.
Foods to Avoid
Sugary foods are high in carbohydrates, which may worsen metabolic syndrome and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as associated conditions (x). Limit sweets, white flour, white rice, carbonated drinks, frozen pizza, fried foods, margarine, pastries, non-dairy creamers and potato chips. Food manufacturers may disguise sugar in food ingredient lists by using different names, including dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, invert sugar and fruit juice concentrates (x).
Avoid excessive amounts of sodium. A high sodium diet increases the risk of high blood pressure and other cardiac diseases. Avoid salty food in favor of low-sodium or salt-free options. Foods high in sodium include potato chips, cottage cheese, canned vegetables, cheese, buttermilk, cured meat, canned soup, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings and large portions of ketchup and mustard (x).
Foods to Eat
High-fiber foods can help lower the risk of stroke and cardiac diseases. Fiber helps regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Good sources of fiber include fresh fruit, dried fruit, fresh vegetables, oats, brown rice, brown wheat, lentils, barley and bran (x). Experts also recommend that patients eat lean sources of protein, such as seafood, and unsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil (x).
If making lifestyle changes does not control the condition alone, doctors may also prescribe medication to treat the underlying risk factors. For example, metformin is a common drug to help control type 2 diabetes (x). Other medications include statins to control cholesterol and antihypertensives for high blood pressure (x, x). However, patients should still maintain healthy lifestyle choices even if they take medication (x).
Preventing Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is preventable. The key is to eliminate the risk factors by maintaining healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. All of the lifestyle changes that can help control these factors — weight loss, diet and exercise — can also help prevent them. Patients should get regular physical exams to monitor the factors of metabolic syndrome. Taking note of these factors early may help prevent long-term complications (x).
Supplements for Metabolic Syndrome
Alpha Lipoic Acid
The body produces alpha lipoic acid (ALA) naturally and it is a powerful antioxidant found in many different foods. Research claims that it can lower blood sugar, reduce inflammation and protect the heart, which may be beneficial for patients with metabolic syndrome. It may also be an effective weight loss tool, another fact that may benefit patients at risk for metabolic syndrome.
The recommended dosage for alpha lipoic acid (ALA) powder is 600 mg once or twice per day with meals. Taking too much of this supplement at once can interfere with healthy alpha lipoic acid levels in the body, so make sure to pay attention to the dosage. Consult a doctor before using this supplement.
Green tea is an excellent antioxidant that promotes cardiac and immune health. It also has strong anti-inflammatory properties and may also help treat inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. It may also be an effective weight loss tool and keep the cardiovascular system healthy. Green tea may also help people recover from workouts, which may be beneficial for patients with metabolic syndrome.
Green tea is also available in different supplement forms, including green tea extract (50% EGCG) and green tea extract (50% polyphenols). The recommended dosage for green tea extract powder is 500 mg up to twice a day. Do not take more than 1,000 mg a day and do not use it for more than three months. Consult a physician before taking this supplement.
Glycine is an amino acid that plays a vital role in muscle development and energy production. It also produces glutathione, an antioxidant that reduces cell damage from free radicals. If the body does not produce enough glycine, it cannot reduce oxidative stress, which also causes damage and disease. One way to make sure the body gets enough glycine is with supplements. The recommended dosage for glycine powder is 1,000 mg one to three times a day, after consulting a physician.
Raspberry ketone is a compound in red raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and kiwis. It is also a common additive to ice cream, soda, shampoos and moisturizers. It is also a popular weight loss tool. Studies suggest it stimulates adiponectin production, a protein hormone that regulates metabolism. It may also help patients with obesity. In addition to eating foods that contain the compound, raspberry ketone is also available as a supplement. The recommended dosage for raspberry ketone supplements is 300 mg once or twice a day, or following a physician’s instructions.
Grown in mostly tropical regions, bitter melon is used in different food dishes despite its bitter taste. It is packed with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. It has antioxidant properties that fight oxidative stress in the body from free radicals. Antioxidants can also help reduce inflammation and patients with metabolic syndrome may have a lot of inflammation in the body. It may also help the body burn fat and help with weight loss. In addition, bitter melon may improve diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels. Take 750 milligrams of bitter melon extract once a day as a dietary supplement, preferably with meals, with permission from a physician.
The human body produces potassium naturally and 98 percent of it is in the cells. 80 percent of the potassium in the cells is in the muscle cells and the rest is in the blood cells, liver and bones. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps send nerve signals and balance fluids in the body. It also helps promote heart health by regulating heartbeat, which stimulates proper oxygen flow throughout the body.
Foods rich in potassium include bananas, oranges, mushrooms, black beans, grapefruit, collard greens, dates, lentils, yogurt and tomatoes. In addition to diet, supplements are also a good way to make sure to take advantage of all of its benefits. The recommended dosage for potassium citrate powder is 275 mg per day, with a physician’s approval.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The body absorbs fat and breaks it down into omega fatty acids to absorb. The most common are omega-3 and omega-6, which the body cannot make itself, and omega-9, which the body can make. An omega 3-6-9 supplement aims to incorporate benefits from each. For example, it can promote cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation that increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. It may also be an effective supplement for weight loss as well as reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol.
Food sources with high levels of omega fatty acids include pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, avocados, salmon and sardines. As a dietary supplement, take three omega 3-6-9 softgels per day, with a doctor’s approval.
The Bottom Line
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of medical conditions that increase the risk of several chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and even certain types of cancers. Physicians define metabolic syndrome according to a set of criteria, including obesity, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. There are no specific symptoms and it does not have a distinct cause. Rather, there are factors that increase the risk, such as obesity, age, genetics and insulin resistance.
Treatment aims to reduce the criteria that defines it, with consistent lifestyle changes like exercise and a healthy diet. Physicians may also prescribe medications to help support lifestyle changes. Supplements may also help reduce the risk or address some of the underlying conditions. Always consult with a doctor before starting a supplement regimen because they are not a substitute for medical treatment. Instead, supplements aim to promote general health.