Do You Have Metabolic Syndrome?

If you think your “muffin top” hanging over your jeans or your “middle-aged spread” are just a little innocent chubbiness — it might be time to think again. Having an apple shape could be a sign you have metabolic syndrome and are at risk for heart disease and diabetes. The good news is you can take control and lower or even eliminate your risks!

If you have a tummy bulge or “spare tire” that makes your shape similar to an apple instead of a pear, it could be a sign of something more serious that a chubby middle.

The waist thickening often called “middle-aged spread” that seems to hit a lot of people when they are 40 beyond could be a sign you have a group of health risks that can significantly increase your chance of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Put together, these risks add up to what is known as metabolic syndrome.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says your chances of having metabolic syndrome increase with age and more than 50 million Americans have it. About 40 percent of these are people in their in their 60s and 70s. However, even children are being diagnosed with the problem.

So what exactly does having metabolic syndrome mean? Guidelines produced by the AHA and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute identify metabolic syndrome (which is also sometimes dubbed Syndrome X) as the presence of three or more of these indicators: a waist measurement equal to or greater than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women, high triglycerides (equal to or over 150 mg/dL), low HDL (high density lipoprotein, also known as the “good” cholesterol ), high blood pressure (130/85 mm Hg or higher ), and elevated fasting glucose equal to or greater than 100 mg/dL . Some doctors also note that C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body) is often note in the blood of those with metabolic syndrome.

Researchers have found that people built with an apple-like shape are most likely to have the problem while being pear-shaped with large thighs may mean you don’t have metabolic syndrome. The reason? The fat in chubby thighs is usually found in women and is there to be used if you produce breast milk . This white fat, found right under the skin, is intrinsically different from the brown fat associated with the metabolic syndrome. That worrisome fat, located deeper in the body and found around the intestines, is correlated with the health problems related to metabolic syndrome.

Insulin resistance is key. Insulin resistance, a generalized metabolic disorder in which the body can’t use insulin efficiently, is believed to play an important role in metabolic syndrome. True, not everyone with insulin resistance has metabolic syndrome. But most people who do have metabolic syndrome are also insulin resistant.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that your body’s cells use to convert glucose to energy. But the kind of extra brown fat stored around the abdomen in metabolic syndrome can make your body resistant to the action of insulin. That raises blood glucose levels and ups your risk of type 2 diabetes.

What’s more insulin resistance has a negative effect on cholesterol levels, increasing LDL (low-density lipoprotein , the “bad” cholesterol), and triglyceride levels in the bloodstream and decreasing HDL .This unhealthy combination can lead to cardiovascular disease, blood clots, and strokes. Insulin resistance is also associated with sodium retention by the kidneys , leading to high blood pressure — another risk factor for heart attack and strokes.

You can take control. In addition to excess abdominal fat, a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk.. Some people are also genetically predisposed to the problem . So if your family members have type 2 diabetes and/or an apple-shaped frame, you may be more likely to have metabolic syndrome. But can greatly reduce your risk by losing weight, if you need to, and exercising.

Lifestyle changes are, in fact, the first-line treatment for metabolic syndrome. Weight reduction to lose your “spare tire” can work wonders. In fact, a clinical trial by the National Institutes of Health’s Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), designed to find the most effective ways of preventing type 2 diabetes in overweight people with insulin resistance, found that modest weight loss ( 5 to 7 percent of initial body weight) and regular physical activity resulted in a 58 percent reduction in the development of diabetes of the people in the study. What’s more , many people in the study with pre-diabetes when the study started had normal blood glucose levels after successful dieting and regular exercise.

Bottom line: you can reverse metabolic syndrome. It takes work and consistency, but it is well worth lowering your cardiovascular disease and diabetes risks – and you’ll look and feel better, too.

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  1. Sherry, very good, well written article, contains lot of useful information.
    What I don’t get: Are you saying being overweight leads to Metabolic Syndrome, or vice versa?
    I think we need to take this as yet another wake up call to put down the cheesburger, get off our butts and hit the gym! What we don’t need to do is use it as yet another excuse for our expanding mid-section.

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