What is Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X?
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase one’s chances of developing life-threatening illnesses in the future. Metabolic syndrome doubles the chance of developing cardiovascular disease1 while increasing the risk of diabetes, stroke, fatty liver, and several types of cancers2.
It is diagnosed by having three or more of the following symptoms3 simultaneously:
- High fasting blood glucose levels: ≥100 mg/dL (or receiving drug therapy for hyperglycemia)
- High blood pressure: ≥130/85 mm Hg (or receiving drug therapy for hypertension)
- High triglyceride levels: Triglycerides ≥150 mg/dL (or receiving drug therapy for hypertriglyceridemia)
- Low high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels: < 40 mg/dL in men or < 50 mg/dL in women (or receiving drug therapy for reduced HDL-C)
- Large waist circumference: ≥102 cm (40 in) in men or ≥88 cm (35 in) in women; if Asian American, ≥90 cm (35 in) in men or ≥80 cm (32 in) in women
When a patient presents with these risk factors simultaneously, the chances for future cardiovascular problems are greater than any one factor presenting alone.
What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?
Low-grade inflammation has been linked to the cause of many serious health conditions such as4:
As well as more common and pervasive conditions5:
- Leaky gut
- Cognitive impairment
- Sleep problems
There are many ways the body develops low-grade inflammation. The western lifestyle, characterized by lack of exercise and a diet rich in refined foods, is the most likely culprit6. These habits lead to obesity, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, insulin resistance and high blood sugar; the collection of symptoms that make up Metabolic Syndrome. Obesity promotes inflammation via chronic activation of the immune system7. To learn more about the health risks associated with obesity, click here.
Refined Foods to Avoid
Eating processed and refined foods leads to inflammation.
Here is a list of refined foods common to the Western Diet to avoid:
- Sugar – granulated sugar, white, brown, high fructose corn syrup
- Saturated Fats – cheese, red meat, full fat dairy
- Trans-Fats – fast food, fried products, processed snack foods: cookies, donuts, margarine
- Omega 6 Fatty Acids – corn oil safflower oil, canola oil, grape seed oil, soy, peanut, vegetable oils, mayonnaise, store bought salad dressing
- Refined Carbohydrates – white flour products, white rice, white potatoes, breakfast cereals
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Gluten – this is the protein found in many grains such as: wheat, barley and spelt.
- Casein – the protein found in whey.
- GMO – genetically modified foods have had their organic structure modified for a production or profit purpose. They contain genetic structures our bodies haven’t seen before and aren’t equipped to metabolize properly. Non-metabolized food sits in our gut and gets fermented by bacteria leading to bacterial dysbiosis.
Eating these processed and toxic foods leads to chronic inflammation in the gut affecting the tight junctions between the cells causing them to separate. When this happens small food particles leak out into the tissues activating the immune system. Food particles in our tissues look like a foreign invader to our immune system that reacts to protect us. Unfortunately the immune system doesn’t forget, and unless we treat our “leaky gut”, our body develops an allergy to these common foods.
Although metabolic syndrome is a serious condition, you can reduce your risks significantly by decreasing your weight, eating heart healthy foods, managing blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure through diet, exercise and supplements.
Sedentary Lifestyle or Lack of Physical Activity
Urban Environment versus Natural Environment
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the largest precursors to metabolic syndrome as well as depression, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The majority of people today are living a sedentary lifestyle: waking up, getting in the car, driving to work, sitting in their job, driving home, eating dinner, watching TV and going to bed. Exercising on a lunch break and setting a timer on your phone to remind you to get up and stretch is becoming common place, but it’s not enough.
The Physiology of Our Body is Designed for Movement
Our body relies on muscle contractions to push blood through veins, and lymph through vessels. These fluids have no other driving force to move around the body. The cells in our body are like factories. They take in nutrients and produce waste. Waste is constantly being pushed out of the cell into the lymph fluid surrounding them. Without muscle contractions, lymph fluid is stagnant and the waste accumulates around the cells creating a toxic environment.
Lack of Movement Create Stagnation at the Cellular Level
The cellular environment and how it affects gene expression, and ultimately health, is the subject of epigenetics. In a healthy environment our DNA produces healthy proteins that orchestrate every biochemical reaction in the body. In a toxic, acidic environment disease promoting genes are expressed and we see the development of chronic and serious conditions like cancer, autoimmune disease and the individual risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to an elevation of blood sugar, aka glucose, after a meal. Insulin facilitates the transport of glucose from the blood to the cell by binding to receptors on the cell membrane. Insulin resistance is a state where the pancreas has to produces more and more insulin to maintain blood sugar in the normal range and get enough glucose inside the cell for energy production.
Why Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance develops when the blood sugar levels are too high, for too long. When there is an abundance of sugar, known as a “sugar spike”, the cells decrease their sugar receptors so that it can’t bind and be brought in. Sugar spikes happen when we eat food containing simple, processed sugar. Simple sugars breakdown fast, and easily in the gut. When the cells are constantly bombarded with too much sugar, they become less sensitive to its presence and reduce the receptors. This resistance leads to diabetes, low-grade inflammation and cancer. High blood sugar causes smooth muscle to contract causing high blood pressure. Too much sugar over a long period of time causes obesity, fatty liver and cardiovascular disease.
Studies show that cadmium is associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Cadmium may distort the insulin receptors preventing insulin binding. Iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc supplementation modulate this effect.
Not All Sugars Are Created Equal
Our muscles, heart, brain and other organs use sugar, or glucose, as a fuel source. There are many types and sources of sugars. There are naturally occurring sugars such as fruit, berries, honey, yams and beets. All other sugars not found in natural sources are processed such as table sugar, brown sugar and high fructose corn syrup. They are called refined sugars. The problem with refined sugars is that they are considered “empty calories”. Empty calories contain none of the essential vitamin and minerals required to break down during digestion. In order to digest them, we have to liberate these vitamins and minerals from other sources including our muscles, tissues and bones. Refined sugars are considered toxins. Not only will refine sugars take or steal nutrients from us but they create disease: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, fatty liver and hypertension. How do refine sugars create disease? By generating low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance.
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