3 Steps to Help Combat Metabolic Syndrome

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RD, CD
3 Steps to Help Combat Metabolic Syndrome

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Metabolic syndrome is a complex metabolic disorder that occurs when a person has a combination of three or more of the following risk factors at the same time: high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and high triglycerides. Having just one of these conditions increases the risk for heart disease; with multiple conditions, there is a heightened risk for stroke and diabetes as well.

If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its conditions, you can take action. Changes in your lifestyle can help reduce the risk of serious health problems from developing.

The following is a list of metabolic syndrome conditions:

  • Obesity: Abdominal obesity, specifically, is a risk factor in metabolic syndrome with body fat concentrated around the waist measuring 40 inches or more in circumference for men and 35 inches or more for women.
  • Increased blood pressure: The current criteria for metabolic syndrome includes a systolic (top number) blood pressure of 130 mm Hg or more, or a diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure of 85 mm Hg or more. However, more recent guidelines from other organizations define elevated blood pressure as a systolic reading of 120-129 mm Hg and less than 80 mm Hg for diastolic.
  • High blood sugar level: A fasting glucose test result of 100 mg/dL or greater.
  • Altered lipids: Triglyceride levels that measure 150 mg/dL or more and/or a HDL cholesterol level that is less than 40 mg/dL for men or less than 50 mg/dL for women.

A variety of lifestyle habits contribute to developing metabolic syndrome, including physical inactivity, weight gain and overeating. The result is a symptom known as "insulin resistance" where the body cannot respond normally to insulin — which is needed in order for the body to use blood sugar. If the body cannot efficiently use insulin, blood sugar levels rise and can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.

Lose Weight, Get Physical and Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

There are numerous ways to prevent or control metabolic syndrome. The first is losing weight. Experts agree that a healthy eating plan combined with increased physical activity can promote weight loss, which is needed to reduce risk factors for metabolic syndrome. No matter what level (light, moderate or vigorous), studies show that metabolic syndrome occurs less often in people who engage in some form of physical activity. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity at a moderate-intensity level on most days of the week.

Eating heart-healthy foods are also beneficial. Experts recommend higher intakes of dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy, along with lean sources of protein including seafood and unsaturated fats such as canola or olive oil. Foods with added sugars and sources of saturated fat and trans fats, as well as salt should be limited. Substituting these foods in place of higher calorie options may aid in weight loss in addition to reducing other risk factors.

As little as a 7 to 10 percent weight loss (18 to 25 pounds for a 250-pound person) can significantly improve health conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high blood cholesterol.

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