Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe a group of conditions that increase risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It’s estimated that 24% of adult Americans have metabolic syndrome. Unhealthy lifestyle choices and genetic factors play a role in the development of metabolic syndrome. The good news is that most of the time, metabolic syndrome can be managed if you are willing to make lifestyle changes.

You are are at risk of metabolic syndrome if you have at least three of the five following conditions:

  • high blood pressure (130/85 mm/Hg and higher)
  • waist size of 40 inches and more in men and 35 inches and more in women
  • triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dL and higher
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels lower than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women
  • fasting glucose levels of 100 mg/dL or higher.

As you can see, all of these conditions are measurable and easy to follow as you begin your treatment. .

Are you at risk of developing metabolic syndrome?

Factors that put you at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome include the following:

  • having a close blood relative with metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease
  • being of African-American, Mexican-American, Asian, or Native American descent
  • older age
  • obesity
  • insulin resistance
  • lack of physical activity
  • history of gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome

Prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome revolve around making positive lifestyle changes:

  1. Eat a healthier diet. Exclude processed foods and trans fats from your diet, and limit saturated fats, sugar, and salt. Doctors recommend the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet for people who are at risk of metabolic syndrome or already have it.
  2. Get regular exercise.  The optimal amount is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly. That is less than 30 minutes a day! Start out easy – take a walk around the block. Gradually work up to higher intensity – jog/cycle. If you can make exercising a habit, you will be well on your way to treating/preventing metabolic syndrome. Of note, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, please ask your doctor what amount and type of exercise is safe for you.
  3. Lose weight the healthy way. Eating a well-balanced diet and daily exercise are a much better way to lose weight than crash dieting or weight-loss surgery.
  4. Monitor your blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol. If you have metabolic syndrome or are at risk of developing it, see your doctor regularly to monitor the success of your treatment.
  5. Avoid nicotine. Smoking contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which puts you at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Find out from your doctor how you can quit.

Your doctor may prescribe medication for a specific aspect of metabolic syndrome (e.g. ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, or statins for high blood cholesterol). Your doctor may also recommend taking small doses of aspirin to reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke. By making positive lifestyle changes you will be less likely to need prescription medication.  

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