Metabolic syndrome is not a single disease, rather it is a constellation of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Risk factors for the chronic diseases of ageing tend to co-occur and they all share multiple underlying causes, all of which lead to metabolic disease. But first let’s look at what metabolism is.
Metabolism refers to all the reactions occurring throughout all the cells of our body to provide us with energy / fuel required for living. This fuel is derived from our food and drink. One essential hormone for the regulation of metabolism is insulin. Whilst many of us know insulin is central to carbohydrate metabolism, it also influences the metabolism of fats and protein. Insulin plays a fundamental role in the processing of fuel - its storage as well as how easily accessible those stores are.
Metabolic disease is when your body fails to respond correctly to insulin, and therefore it is a disorder of fuel processing. It typically clusters with five signs which make up the diagnostic criteria for metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when 3 or more of the following risk factors are present:
Increased blood glucose levels: This means having fasting blood glucose levels equal to or above 5.6 mmol/L. This can raise your risk of getting blood clots and lead to cardiovascular diseases.
Low levels of HDL cholesterol: That is having levels below 1.03 mmol/L in men or 1.29 mmol/L in women. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is ‘good’ cholesterol which helps clear out plaque building ‘bad’ cholesterol from your blood vessels.
Elevated fasted triglycerides: Levels above 1.69 mmol/L increase your risk of developing heart disease.
A large waist circumference: Having a waist circumference over 102cm in men, or 88cm in women. A good indicator of having good metabolic health is to have a waist to height ratio of less than 0.5 (BMI is actually a poor way to measure metabolic health as it does not distinguish between weight from muscle and fat).
High blood pressure: Which is a blood pressure of 130/ 85 mm/Hg or above. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and may lead to a build up of plaque which can cause heart attacks or strokes. Optimal blood pressure readings are less than 120/80 mmHg.
All of these risk factors individually increase your risk of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. However, having three or more increases your risk significantly.
Metabolic syndrome can cause the following complications:
type 2 diabetes
increased cancer risk
Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Several factors contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome. However it is believed that the two main drivers behind this syndrome are insulin resistance and obesity. Other factors which increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome older age, ethnicity; gender (being male increases your risk) diabetes (risk is increased if you have had gestational diabetes or a family history of type 2 diabetes) and other diseases (your risk is higher if you have had nonalcoholic fatty liver diseases, polycystic ovary syndrome or sleep apnea).
Some risk factors for metabolic syndrome are non modifiable, but there are risk factors we can control by making lifestyle changes that significantly reduce your risk:
Getting regular exercise - any increase in physical activity and decrease in sedentary habits is beneficial. A combination of aerobic and strength training is best;
Eating a heart, healthy diet - this includes consuming mainly whole foods such a fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish and lean poultry whilst minimising/ avoiding red and processed meat, added sugar, saturated fat;
Maintaining a healthy weight (healthy waist to height ratio below 0.5);
Getting sufficient amounts of good quality sleep;
Avoiding tobacco use;
Managing stress - finding strategies to manage your stress;
Monitor and manage your blood glucose, blood cholesterol and blood pressure.
As the prevalence of this syndrome steadily increases globally so too does the importance of identifying effective prevention and treatment strategies and protocols. It is estimated that up to 30% of the global adult population may be classified as having metabolic syndrome and that this closely parallels the prevalence of obesity. Its diagnosis is especially important in helping identify high risk patients and preventing diseases of ageing and maintaining healthspan.
If you would like to test your personal risk factors for developing chronic diseases of ageing, find out more about the Longevity Annual health check and download the longevity doctor guide to healthy living.