Battling Metabolic Syndrome X
Chances are, if I was told by my health care practitioner that I had Metabolic Syndrome X, I might think I had a condition that he or she couldn’t identify very well. Thus, the mysterious label of “Syndrome X” was slapped on my symptoms. The reality is that Metabolic Syndrome X is a very prevalent and deadly conglomeration of diseases that has been called the most common cause of premature death and disability in the Western World. With a distinction such as this, perhaps the syndrome deserves some closer inspection. Let’s see what we can find out about this major public health problem that is so rampant in our society.
What is Metabolic Syndrome X?
Metabolic Syndrome X is a cluster of conditions that is, as the name indicates, linked to the body’s metabolism and is also related to a phenomenon known as insulin resistance. It has also been called syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome. The prominent conditions associated with syndrome X are obesity, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol levels, and high levels of and resistance to insulin. The presence of one or more of these indicators increases one’s chances of developing such serious ailments as coronary disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease.
The prevalence of this deadly syndrome is increasing at alarming rates here in the United States and around the world. It was estimated in 2002 that approximately 47 million Americans suffered from syndrome X. Current estimates place the number at up to 70 million. Slightly more women than men are affected by the syndrome, and there is a definite imparity between the races. Mexican Americans have the greatest incidence of syndrome X, followed by Asian Americans, Caucasian Americans, and African Americans. Age is also a factor. Less than 10% of individuals in their twenties have metabolic syndrome X, but the number shoots up to about 40% for those in their sixties. However, one study indicated that approximately one in eight school-aged children may have three or more of the primary indicators of the syndrome. That is a frightening statistic.
There is some good news amidst this bleak picture: Metabolic Syndrome X and its associated conditions can be dramatically reduced by aggressive lifestyle changes such as proper diet and exercise. The trick is to get the average American to recognize the need for such changes and then have the discipline to commit to them. Perhaps we can start ‘em young…
How Do I Know if I Have Metabolic Syndrome X?
Official diagnosis of the syndrome necessitates three or more of the following criteria are found:
- Waist circumference of greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men. This is generally known as abdominal obesity, and often manifests itself as an “apple-shaped” figure, versus a preferred “pear-shaped” figure.
- Elevated triglyceride levels greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL. Triglycerides are one of the fats found in the blood.
- Low HDL levels of less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is considered the “good” cholesterol.
- Blood pressure readings of 130/85 mm Hg or higher.
- Fasting glucose levels greater than or equal to 110 mg/dL.
Other risk factors that can increase one’s chances of developing the syndrome include:
- Obesity, as measured by the body mass index (BMI). This index is a factor of the percentage of body fat versus your height and weight. Having a BMI of 25 or greater is considered a risk factor for Metabolic Syndrome X.
- Diabetes: Risk for the syndrome is increased if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, and/or if a woman has had gestational diabetes, which is a form of the illness associated with pregnancy.
- Other diseases: Certain other conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome can also contribute to increased risk for syndrome X. Polycystic ovary syndrome is also a metabolic problem affecting the hormones and reproductive system of females.
What Are the Causes of Metabolic Syndrome X?
Much research has been done on this condition, and while there is still a lot that is not completely understood, the evidence seems to point towards resistance to insulin as the foundational cause of the syndrome. Resistance to insulin is a term that describes an abnormal way the body handles glucose and insulin. When operating properly, food is broken down in the digestive system into a form of sugar called glucose. The bloodstream transports glucose to the various organs of the body, and it enters the cells to be used as fuel with the help of a hormone called insulin. When you are insulin resistant, your cells do not react to insulin the way they are designed to, and thus glucose cannot effectively enter the cells. In response, the body increases the output of insulin, thinking that the problem is insufficient amounts of insulin. The result is elevated levels of both insulin and glucose in the blood. This triggers, among other things, elevated triglyceride levels and kidney malfunction resulting in hypertension (high blood pressure). It is not known for certain what causes resistance to insulin—genetic and environmental factors are suspect—but we do know that obesity and an inactive lifestyle are major contributors.
The various components of syndrome X (obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance) have an exponential effect on your health. In other words, if you have one of these factors, you are more likely to have or develop others, and the more you have, the greater the health risk. One study indicated that men who have three of the components have twice the risk for a heart attack and three times the risk for coronary disease as men with none of the factors present. The good news is that if you take steps to make the lifestyle changes to reduce one of these components, it will also positively affect the others.
What Can be Done to Treat or Prevent Metabolic Syndrome X?
As destructive as the syndrome is, in the vast majority of cases it is almost completely treatable and/or preventable through lifestyle changes. The two most common culprits that cause this syndrome and many other maladies of the modern industrialized world are the Standard American Diet (SAD) and a sedentary lifestyle characterized by a lack of physical exercise. Other than certain hereditary factors that predispose some folks to such things as hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease, aggressive changes in the way we eat and live could make syndrome X a relic of the past. Even those that inherit the above tendencies can be helped by diet and exercise.
These steps are not hard or complicated to take. The first recommendation would be a complete digestive tract, liver/gallbladder and parasite cleanse to prepare the body for health. Apply common sense in regards to what you eat. A diet high in organic fresh fruits and vegetables along with as much dietary fiber you can get is the direction you want to be going. Dietary fiber has a multitude of healthful effects, one of which is to naturally lower insulin levels. Stay away from junk food, pre-packaged foods and high fat red meats. Instead of using plain old table salt, begin using sea or Celtic salt. Experiment with different kinds of herbs for alternative seasonings. Add organic supplementation to your health routine. See my e-book Optimum Health Strategies…Doing What Works for a total natural health program that will help to eliminate Metabolic Syndrome X.
Other effective changes include:
- Stop Smoking: In addition to the myriad of other health benefits associated with smoking cessation, kicking the habit will lessen insulin resistance and decrease the risk of other complications associated with the syndrome including heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.
- Lose weight: Obese individuals stand to gain the most from losing extra body weight, but even if you lose 5-10% of your body weight, you can experience benefits such as a reduction in insulin levels and blood pressure, as well as decreasing your risk for developing diabetes. Weight loss will be a natural byproduct of eating better (and less) and exercise.
- Exercise: Don’t set your goals unrealistically high to start—just get moving! Consistent brisk walking has tremendous health benefits, and a commitment to this will naturally lead to a more active lifestyle in other areas.
- Involve the whole family: Perhaps one of the most effective strategies to combat metabolic syndrome X and an unhealthy lifestyle in general is to lead by example and involve the rest of the family as well, especially the young ones. Some folks may feel that it is “too late” for them. Perhaps they have reached middle age or beyond, and it all seems too overwhelming when they consider all the needed changes and bad patterns that need to be broken. In reality, that is not true. It is never too late to implement changes into our lives, it only seems harder the older we get. But it certainly is true that if we can get the next generation to start to live, eat, and think differently, perhaps the cycle of poor health in America can be broken. It’s a crying shame that with all the prosperity and resources we have available to us in this country that we can’t or won’t learn to live in a balanced manner that leads to health and wholeness of body, mind, and spirit.
"Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad — not by any means.
In fact, change is necessary in life — to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested. …
Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull."