Metabolic syndrome is a mix of risk factors (central obesity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and hypertension) that together lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease.
The problem is thought to start with dyslipidemia (elevated triglycerides), which leads to the overproduction of unhealthy fats and cholesterol.
This is thought to then lead to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease since these two problems are associated with disorders of fat and cholesterol metabolism.
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is not a disease in and of itself but is instead a group of conditions that often occur together.
These conditions are hypertension, hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia, and central obesity.
Let’s break down what these all mean.
- Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure.
- Hyperglycemia means elevated blood sugar levels.
- Dyslipidemia is a term meaning that cholesterol levels are off. This could be increased low-density lipoprotein (often termed “bad cholesterol”), high triglycerides, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol), or any combination of these.
- Central obesity refers to an accumulation of fat around the midsection, which is often associated with increased fat around the organs (visceral fat). Abdominal obesity is correlated with increased waist circumference.
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Metabolic risk factors
It’s no secret that those at the highest risk for metabolic syndrome are people who are obese and overweight.
Although not every person with metabolic syndrome is obese, this is a definite commonality and dramatically increases the risk of developing this syndrome.
A person with insulin resistance is also at risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
People who currently smoke or who smoked cigarettes in the past are at increased risk as well.
Although this is a risk factor that is not within our realm of control, with older age comes increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
Interestingly, those with prescription medications are also at higher risk.
Finally, those who are in “poor physical health” in general are at greater risk of developing this syndrome.
How serious is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome isn’t kidding around. It increases the risk of type 2 diabetes fivefold and the risk of cardiovascular disease threefold. Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the leading causes of death across the globe.
In relation to cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome specifically increases the risk of microvascular dysfunction (problems in the small blood vessels), coronary atherosclerosis and calcification (hardening of the arteries), cardiac dysfunction, heart attack, and heart failure.
Metabolic syndrome is also related to sarcopenia, which is a loss of muscle quality, muscle mass, and muscular strength in the older population.
It’s also time to bring up that “c” word. Yes, metabolic syndrome has been linked to cancer. Actually, it has been associated with many different types of cancer, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, and liver cancer.
Metabolic syndrome can also lead to alterations in the metabolism of magnesium, systemic inflammation, and inflammation of the hypothalamus.
It has also been linked to circadian rhythm disturbances. The circadian rhythm is your internal clock that governs the sleep and wake cycles within your body. This means that metabolic syndrome can negatively affect sleep.
Finally, metabolic syndrome has been correlated to the shortening of telomeres, which is what scientists say eventually leads to mortality.
Symptoms and causes
Let’s now go through some of the symptoms and causes of metabolic syndrome.
The primary symptom of metabolic syndrome is also one of its causal factors:
Abdominal obesity. If you have a large waist circumference, then it is possible that you have or are developing metabolic syndrome.
Some other symptoms often associated with metabolic syndrome are gout, chronic kidney disease, and obstructive sleep apnea.
People with metabolic syndrome often have skin-related symptoms. For example, acanthosis nigricans and skin tags are signs of insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance.
Xanthoma and xanthelasma are signs of high triglyceride levels.
Psoriasis and hidradenitis suppurativa are generally associated with metabolic disorders and obesity.
Since metabolic syndrome greatly increases your risk factors for type 2 diabetes, it is also important to look out for symptoms of diabetes, which include: increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, sores and wounds that are slow to heal, and frequent infections.
How does metabolic syndrome develop?
The development of metabolic syndrome is thought to be based on a combination of both genetic risk factors as well as lifestyle factors.
These factors contribute to the inflammatory pathways that eventually lead to cardiovascular disease.
Scientists have found what’s called the “sphingolipid pathway,” which is thought to trigger the clinical conditions that contribute to high blood pressure.
Researchers have stated that insulin resistance, increased fatty acids, and an inflammatory state in the body are what contribute to metabolic syndrome and its development.
The inflammation of fatty tissue is a key part of why metabolism gets thrown off balance. This is due to fatty deposits and dysfunction of mitochondria in skeletal muscle and in the liver.
You may be asking yourself: “But what makes all that happen in the first place?”
Researchers believe the answer is our poor lifestyle choices. They say that chronic ingestion of a Western diet can lead to the development of metabolic syndrome.
They believe this is due to chronic overload of free fatty acids and glucose since these can directly trigger inflammatory pathways.
Free fatty acids actually lead to what is called “reactive oxygen species,” or ROS for short. These are also known as “free radicals,” and lead to inflammation.
It appears as if endothelial stress and increases inactivity of our platelets are the first things to happen along the pathway to metabolic syndrome.
It is thought that endothelial activation and insulin resistance are causes of the chronic low-level inflammation we so often see occurring in metabolic syndrome.
This also shows us that both metabolic, as well as cardiovascular consequences, are linked to the consumption of a typical Western high fat diet.
Multiple criteria are generally used in the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. The first is concerning central obesity. In metabolic syndrome, the waistline is equal to or greater than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men.
Triglycerides are greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL.
High-density lipoprotein (often referred to as the “good cholesterol”) is equal to or greater than 40 mg/dL in men, and equal to or greater than 50 mg/dL in women.
Blood pressure is greater than 130/85 mmHg. Fasting blood sugar is greater than or equal to 100 mg/dL.
What lifestyle changes can you make to treat metabolic syndrome?
Let us now discuss some potential treatments for metabolic syndrome. One of the best things you can do for yourself to treat metabolic disease is to change the diet. You will want to consider reducing your intake of saturated fats, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.
Lowering cholesterol is key when it comes to cardiovascular disease! If you are looking for a specific diet to follow, the Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy diet that has a plethora of evidence to support its benefits in helping with metabolic syndrome.
Physical activity is another crucial part of any metabolic syndrome treatment plan. Research has also shown that reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking are helpful for those with metabolic syndrome.
How do you manage metabolic syndrome symptoms?
One symptom of metabolic syndrome is insomnia. Researchers have stated that the treatment of insomnia is important not only for the management, but also for the prevention of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
The first step should be sleep hygiene. This means ensuring that you have a bedtime routine, no clutter in the bedroom, minimal screen time, a dark bedroom with no noise pollution, etc.
If sleep hygiene is not helpful, supplementation may be useful. Another option is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is helpful for the symptom of insomnia as a result of metabolic syndrome.
It also reduces the need for medication and prevents the recurrence of insomnia. Scientists have said that progress in the management of insomnia as a byproduct of metabolic syndrome would help with better treatment outcomes in general practice.
What treatments are most effective?
The most effective way to deal with any condition is to treat the root cause, and metabolic syndrome is no exception to this rule. In metabolic syndrome, the root causes appear to be obesity and inflammation.
Researchers have stated that the treatment of metabolic syndrome should begin with weight loss. This is because weight loss helps to reduce abdominal obesity while also decreasing insulin resistance.
Researchers recommend introducing a calorie-restricted, individually balanced diet that leads to a 7 to 10% weight loss over a time period of 6 to 12 months.
An effective treatment plan for metabolic syndrome certainly includes physical activity. Specifically, aerobic interval training helps to enhance endothelial function by 9%. The intensity of this exercise is important.
One study was performed comparing aerobic interval training to continuous moderate exercise.
While the aerobic interval training, as mentioned above, enhanced endothelial function by 9%, continuous moderate exercise only improved endothelial function by 5%.
Exercise also helps with insulin signaling in fat and skeletal muscle, growth of skeletal muscle, and reduces blood glucose and the growth of fat within adipose tissue. An aerobic interval training program also helped to lower mean arterial blood pressure. It even decreased body weight by 3.6 kg.
The first steps are changing the diet and increasing physical activity. But what if those don’t work? Although these methods have been proven to be effective, in some cases, metabolic syndrome can be resistant.
In these situations, medication and/or bariatric surgery can be effective. If the person has several cardiometabolic risk factors, then medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar are an effective way to reduce risk.
There is what is called the “polypill,” which is basically a combination of blood pressure lowering and cholesterol-modifying drugs.
Though this is effective once you already have these problems, the prevention of metabolic syndrome in the first place through a healthy lifestyle seems to be the best way to go.
Best supplements for treating metabolic syndrome
How can supplements be an effective treatment for metabolic syndrome?
It’s time to talk about some of the best supplements for treating metabolic syndrome to reduce the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease in general.
Research has shown that plant protein can help to improve insulin resistance and reduce the secretion of certain unhealthy fatty acids.
Probiotics and prebiotics can help decrease risk factors of metabolic syndrome by modifying the intestinal microbiome. They do this by reducing the absorption of certain nutrients and helping with the metabolic handling of nutrient-rich foods.
This helps to reduce overall cardiometabolic risk. Red yeast rice is an alternative to a statin drug, which helps by managing cholesterol levels.
Berberine is a compound that helps by managing blood sugar. Curcumin is a nutrient that helps by reducing inflammation.
Vitamin D is useful as well since it helps to scavenge free radicals and fight against inflammation.
Which supplements can you use to treat your metabolic syndrome?
Taking into consideration all of the information above, the supplements you can use to help in the treatment of metabolic syndrome include plant proteins, prebiotics, probiotics, red yeast rice, berberine, curcumin, and vitamin D.
How can you choose which supplements are best to treat your metabolic syndrome?
So how do you know which metabolic syndrome supplement is right for you? First, you’ll want to take a look at the label and read the ingredients.
You want a supplement that contains the highest quality ingredients, and in their most bioavailable (absorbable) form.
You’ll also want ingredients that are at a therapeutic dose. A therapeutic dose is the amount of the ingredient that you will need to have a clinical effect, as proven by scientific studies.
It’s also important that the metabolic syndrome supplement you take contains natural nutrients.
You do not want it to have any synthetic ingredients or genetically-modified organisms. You will want the supplement to have chelating minerals, as these have higher bioavailability and are better absorbed and used by our bodies.
If you ever see an ingredient labeled as a “proprietary blend,” this is a sneaky way that supplement companies have of hiding ingredients. This is not good. You don’t know what’s in there and therefore don’t know exactly what you’re putting into your body. That’s never a good thing.
Whatever you end up taking, you’ll definitely want it to have lab results demonstrating the effectiveness of the product. It’s also always good to see independent research endorsements from actual doctors.
You’ll want to read some customer reviews as well, to see how people in the real world are reacting to this metabolic syndrome supplement. You want to see genuine customer reviews. Paid endorsements, fake reviews, and dodgy marketing tricks are not what you want in a supplement!
A company with strict quality controls and US-based lab testing is always a bonus as well. They will often inform you that they do this on their website, if not on the supplement bottle itself.
It’s also great when a company has well-trained and knowledgeable customer support staff who know what they are talking about and can help you. You want clear and concise information and a company whose employees will be able to answer any pressing questions you might have. If a company has a serious lack of customer support, that is not usually a very good sign. Be wary!