Metabolic Syndrome (MetS) is a cluster of lifestyle-dependent metabolic disorders that significantly increase your risk for heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. MetS is linked to obesity and inactivity and is considered an emerging epidemic affecting one in five Canadian adults.
Without medical testing, you probably don’t know if you have MetS because you cannot see or feel symptoms of most of the metabolic disorders associated with it. It’s important to know whether you have MetS so you can make changes to your lifestyle that can help reduce your health risks.
The definition of MetS has changed since the term was coined back in the 1940s. Originally, the defining feature was obesity. Currently, the World Health Organization defines insulin resistance and not obesity as the critical feature. Perhaps the most practical and widely accepted definition of MetS is the presence of three or more of the following metabolic disorders:
1. High waist circumference (102 cm or 40 inches or more for men; and 88 cm or 34 inches or more for women);
2. Elevated triglycerides;
3. Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol;
4. High fasting blood sugar – if it’s very high, you may have symptoms of diabetes such as increased thirst and urination;
5. High blood pressure.
Do you know your score out of five?
You can check your blood pressure for free at many pharmacies or your doctor can check it. It’s considered a risk factor for MetS if it is greater than 130/85. Your doctor can send you for standard blood tests to check your triglycerides, cholesterol and fasting blood glucose.
To correctly measure your waistline, do it against your skin. Place the tape measure at your belly button and around your body at the top of the hip bone on each side. Take a deep breath then exhale. Don’t hold in your stomach – that’s cheating.
As we age, our risk increases. Thirteen per cent of 18- to 39-year-olds have MetS, 25 per cent of 40- to 59-year-olds, and 39 per cent of 60- to 79-year-olds have it. There is no significant difference between men and women. There are some racial variations. The most prevalent risk factor in the younger age group is high waist circumference; in older adults it’s high blood pressure.
Only one-third of Canadian adults have none of the risk factors. Fifty-one per cent of young adults already have at least one risk factor, which is worrisome. Has your doctor ever informed you that you have abdominal obesity or abnormal test results for cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar or blood pressure? Did you take that information seriously and do something about it, or did you ignore it?
You can’t do anything about your age or genetics. You’re also at increased risk for MetS if you had gestational diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or polycystic ovary syndrome. Children with abdominal obesity are at increased risk for MetS. Everyone has a realistic opportunity to reverse one or more metabolic syndrome conditions with diet and physical activity.
Dietary tips: Consider reducing your consumption of simple carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and sodium and increasing your consumption of complex carbohydrates, fibre and healthy fats. You also may be eating too much protein, which can be harmful if you’re obese or have kidney disease. Always check with your doctor before making dietary changes if you have any health issues. If you have MetS or a large waistline, a dietician can help you choose the right balance of nutrients and a suitable amount of calories.
Exercise tips: If you have MetS, your best option is regular, intensive physical activity. If you are unable to do intensive exercise, then you can start with light to moderate exercise, such as daily walking for thirty minutes. You can eventually work your way towards more intensive exercise for better results. Exercise is good for your heart, for lowering your blood pressure, increasing your good cholesterol, and together with a healthy diet will reduce your body fat.
If you can’t achieve the desired results with lifestyle changes or you’re unable or unwilling to implement the necessary changes, your doctor may prescribe medications or other interventions to treat your metabolic disorders. Talk to your doctor and ensure you know your risks so you can take the right steps to improve your health.