Metabolic Syndrome (Syndrome X / Insulin Resistance Syndrome)

Metabolic Syndrome  (Syndrome X / Insulin Resistance Syndrome)

What is metabolic syndrome?  

The term ‘metabolic’ refers to the system of chemical and physical processes that occur within a living cell or organism in order to maintain life. Metabolic syndrome is actually a combination of conditions that occur at the same time, or rather together, that are believed to arise from insulin resistance. These manifestations include high blood sugar, high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity (excess fat around your abdomen) and abnormal or high triglyceride or cholesterol levels. Therefore, metabolic syndrome affects the way our bodies work in the processes of keeping us alive, which is known as metabolism. This is the process that involves the build-up of substances (anabolism) which are important for energy and the storage thereof, as well as the breakdown of substances (catabolism), both of which are vital to sustaining life.  

It is important to know that if you have one of the above-mentioned conditions and not all of them, you do not have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is only diagnosed when three or more of the above risk factors exist together. When these occur simultaneously, your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke are increased. However, even having one of the five conditions is likely to increase the risk of developing severe health issues. If you have one of these, or worse, a combination thereof indicating metabolic syndrome, aggressively adopting lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the development of more serious health issues.  

Metabolic syndrome is often spoken about in recent times as more and more people are developing it. The condition was only identified roughly 20 years ago, but it is becoming increasingly common and widely spread with an estimated 20 to 25% of the global adult population suffering from it.  

A medical consensus on the exact cause of the condition is yet to be reached but many doctors believe it to be predominantly due to insulin resistance. 

Insulin is the hormone responsible for helping your body to turn sugars from the food you eat into energy in order for your body to function. If you are resistant to this hormone, the sugars from food will build-up in your body, creating the platform for the syndrome to develop.  

Due to the debate around the cause of the syndrome, doctors are also known to refer to it as Syndrome X, with ‘x’ denoting the unknown factor in the condition. It can also be referred to as Insulin Resistance Syndrome.  

The following article explores all you need to know about this heated and often mysterious topic. We will talk about the possible causes, diagnosis, treatment and outlook in the hopes of educating you about the risks of such a condition. Please note that this is information is to be used as a guideline and not as a professional prognosis or opinion.   

What are the risks and complications for metabolic syndrome? 

There are a number of risk factors that are likely to increase your chance of developing the condition, these being:  

  • Obesity – If you carry too much weight (around 20% more than your ideal body weight for your height) you will be considered as obese. Obesity often exists in those who eat too many calories for the amount of exercise done, creating caloric excess which is then stored as fat.  If this weight is concentrated particularly in your abdominal region, this is likely to increase your risk of developing a variety of health-related issues including metabolic syndrome. 
  • Age – Your risk of developing the syndrome will increase with age as your metabolism will start to slow down as your body does.  
  • Other diseases – If you have experienced other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, your risk of being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome is higher.  
  • Diabetes – If you have type 2 diabetes, a family history of it, or if you have had gestational diabetes (which is diabetes during pregnancy), your risk is increased.  
  • Insulin resistance(linked to diabetes) – This is when your body does not convert sugar from food into energy, but instead stores this as fat. When you are insulin resistant, your glucose levels start to rise, this can lead to obesity and other weight issues if you do not make dramatic lifestyle changes. 

Overweight waist measurement

There are a few complications that can arise from being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, these are often serious and chronic (long term). The following are some of the complications:  

  • Heart attack 
  • Stroke 
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
  • Kidney disease
  • Cardiovascular disease– High blood pressure and high cholesterol are responsible for the build-up of plaque in your arteries. When your arteries become hardened or narrowed because of this, you are at risk of a stroke or a heart attack (as mentioned above).  
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Blood clotting
  • Diabetes, if this develops the following may follow if the condition is not adequately managed: 
    • Kidney disease
    • Limb amputation
    • Retinopathy(eye damage)  
    • Neuropathy(nerve damage)

What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?  

Having a large abdomen circumference is one of the most visible signs of metabolic syndrome. Although there are no specific symptoms related to the condition. If you are experiencing symptoms of diabetes such as high blood sugar (glucose levels), frequent and increased urination and thirst, fatigue and blurred vision, these may be signs of metabolic syndrome.  

When to see a doctor  

If you know that you are experiencing three or more of the components of metabolic syndrome, then it is best to speak to your doctor so that he/she can do tests to determine whether or not you have the condition.  

Just to recap, these components are:  

  • High blood sugar (insulin resistance)
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity (excess fat around your abdomen) 
  • Abnormal or high triglyceride 
  • High cholesterol levels

What are the causes of metabolic syndrome?  

There are a variety of factors that are known to have a direct link to metabolic syndrome, as previously discussed, the syndrome has a close link to inactivity (lack of movement and exercise), being overweight and obesity.  

By now it should be clear that insulin resistance is also a leading cause of it. The hormone insulin is made by your pancreas and assists the cells of your body to take up sugar and use it for energy. This can be seen as a form of fuel to keep you going. If you are resistant to this particular hormone, it means that your cells do not digest the glucose in food and because of this, the glucose levels in your body will rise as your body will continue to create more and more insulin. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to diabetes. Being resistant to insulin can often result in retaining extra weight in your abdominal region.  

As mentioned, doctors are still not sure why metabolic syndrome forms, and it consists of a group of diseases or risk factors, and it is not merely a single condition.  

Hormonal imbalance has also been known to play a role in the condition. This can be linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a condition known to affect female fertility and is often related to an imbalance of hormones that causes ovarian cysts amongst other symptoms and may, in turn, result in metabolic syndrome.  

Abdominal obesity or obesity in general means that you have extra body fat due to lack of exercise or movement and the increase and over intake of calories needed to complete daily activities. Many people sitting at a desk all day and mindlessly eating junk food are often prone to developing obesity, although genes also have a role to play. Being obese is a direct link to developing metabolic syndrome.  

Anxiety is something many people experience when diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, but it is best to see this condition as a shock to the system in order to put some concrete lifestyle changes in place so as to seriously improve your health.  

How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed?  

Although the condition is still one that is much-debated, there are a number of measures and criteria that have been put in place to help in diagnosing metabolic syndrome. According to these criteria, if you are found to have three of the following traits or more, or you are taking medicine to control them, you are likely to have the condition.  

The criteria are assessed by your doctor through a number of tests and are as follows:  

  • You suffer from obesity or are overweight and carry a large amount of weight around your  In men, this refers to your waist being larger than 101cm (40 inches) and for women, it means your waist is larger than 89cm (35 inches) all the way around.  
  • Your blood sugar is abnormally high and is increasing, being 100 mg/dL or higher. 
  • Your blood pressure is abnormally high, being 130/85 mm Hg or  
  • You have an abnormally low HDL (high-density lipoprotein), being lower than 40 mg/dLin men or less than 50mg/dL in women. This HDL cholesterol is known as the good kind of cholesterol.  
  • The amount of fat found in your blood is high, being a triglyceride level over 150mg/dL. 

What is the treatment for metabolic syndrome?  

Your primary goal after being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome should be to decrease your risk of potentially developing further health complications. Your first step should be to undertake serious lifestyle changes. 

Your doctor is likely to recommend that you lose between 7 and 10% of your weight in an attempt to obtain an ideal weight and partake in at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, five days of the week, as well as maintaining a healthy diet given to you by a dietician or your doctor. 

Your doctor may also give you medication to help to control your cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure. If you are a smoker, your doctor will advise that you stop smoking effective immediately or recommend a program to help you to stop.   

To get into more detail about the changes needing to be made, it important that you consider the following:  

Exercising more 

If you are not active you have a high risk of heart disease. It is vital to exercise daily. If you are unsure as to where to start or find the gym to be rather intimidating, then speak to your doctor or a personal trainer about adopting an exercise regime suited to you and your goals. Once you start seeing results you will want to keep going as you begin to feel more and more comfortable and happy in your body. If you treat your body well it will return the favour through improved health and well-being. You need to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, with an average no lower than 120 minutes a week.  

Maintaining a weight that is healthy 

Your BMI (body mass index) is used to determine if you weight is healthy for your height. Your doctor will work this out accordingly and determine whether or not you need to make a plan to lose weight and then maintain your goal weight through sticking to an exercise regime and healthy diet.  

Have a look at the table below to calculate your BMI.

 BMI table

Sticking to a healthy, nutritious diet  

If you combine a healthy diet with exercise you will find it much easier to reach your goal weight and maintain it once you have adopted healthy lifestyle changes. Eating high fibre foods, five servings of fruit and vegetables a day and cutting out highly processed and fatty takeaway foods will aid in your weight loss journey. It is advised that you also try to cut out sugars and lower your salt (sodium) intake, as well as trans and saturated fats.  

Stick to a healthy diet

What is the outlook for metabolic syndrome? 

If you have metabolic syndrome, your outlook is likely to be that of a positive one, if your symptoms are well managed through diet and exercise and in some cases, medication. If you take the advice of your doctor and are able to lose your weight and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, your chances of developing further conditions are greatly reduced and some current conditions are often able to be eliminated.  

In some cases, if symptoms are more severe, however, you are likely to have long-term effects such as that of cardiovascular disease. This is often the most common case in these situations. If you have this condition, your doctor will suggest that he/she constantly monitor you in order to prevent more severe problems such as a stroke or heart attack from arising.  

Are there prevention methods for metabolic syndrome?  

Metabolic syndrome is definitely able to be prevented.

If you maintain a healthy weight and waist circumference, as well as keep your cholesterol and blood levels to normal levels, your risk of developing the condition is greatly decreased. Insulin resistance is also able to be reduced through as healthy diet and regular exercise.  

In order to fully prevent the condition, your doctor is likely to recommend regular monitoring and physical examinations. If your blood work is examined your doctor is likely to detect the development of early metabolic syndrome. In detecting the condition in its early stages, you will be able to reduce the impact of further health implications on a large scale.  

Some more questions you may have… 

What are the features that define metabolic syndrome? 

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors or conditions that exist simultaneously in one person. These include high blood pressure (hypertension), cholesterol levels that are abnormal, as well as having a higher risk of blood clots. People with this condition tend to be obese or overweight.  

What is the meaning of metabolic derangement? 

Derangement refers to the disturbance of the normal order of things. With metabolic syndrome being a group of risk factors or conditions, the condition is therefore a group of metabolic derangements - being a cluster of conditions that disturb or disrupt the normal order of the body and metabolic processes of the metabolism.  

What is metabolic liver disease? 

This is a disease that is often the result of metabolic syndrome and obesity and is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The condition is normally a spectrum of conditions that result in liver damage.  

Is metabolic syndrome genetic? 

Genetic factors have been known to influence the disease. If you have a family member with type 2 diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, your chances of developing the condition are greatly increased. Obesity is also known to be a genetic factor.  

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