You should want to know because the odds are very good that you have it. In fact, the vast majority of people do have it and that is why I can make that statement. It is a combination of factors that increases one’s risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. All of these are at epidemic levels in our population today and all are increasing in incidence each year. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. People just need the right information to make the appropriate choices to prevent and even reverse this dangerous condition. Correcting Metabolic Syndrome is the best thing one could do to enhance their health and promote longevity. The orthodox medical approach is to treat each symptom individually as if they are isolated conditions with a pharmaceutical intervention. However, all of the symptoms could be related to the same dysfunction occurring in the body when the cause is Metabolic Syndrome.
Defining Metabolic Syndrome (or Syndrome X)
Metabolic Syndrome has at its basis a condition called insulin resistance. Along with insulin resistance, there can be one or more of the following: glucose intolerance, obesity, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. A simplified version of what happens is that glucose (blood sugar) goes high after eating (especially refined carbohydrates) and the hormone insulin is secreted to bring down the glucose levels and help it into the cells where it can be utilized for energy. Over time cells may become overwhelmed by all that insulin responding to glucose spikes, and eventually they begin to respond slower. The pancreas may continue to get the signal to secrete insulin because glucose levels are high, and a vicious cycle is put in place that leads to the cells becoming even more resistant and they reject the insulin from entering. What happens to all that insulin that the body can no longer use? It gets stored as fat and leads to obesity. It is only logical that the first step in reversing this situation is to control glucose. I’ll explain how to do that shortly.
Understanding Metabolic Syndrome is very important because it explains why so many people are getting diabetes, are on high blood pressure medicines, have cardiovascular disease, etc. Take diabetes for example. Diabetes doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with glucose intolerance followed by insulin resistance, which leads to Metabolic Syndrome, then eventually diabetes. Wouldn’t it make sense to try and intervene much sooner than the day diabetes shows its head? Again, these health issues may be related. For example, a leading cause of death for diabetics is heart failure.
There are some helpful lab tests that can give a good picture as to where one is in this scenario. They are: 1) fasting glucose 2) fasting insulin 3) 2 hour post meal glucose 4) 2 hour post meal insulin 5) triglycerides 6) oxidized LDL cholesterol 7) blood pressure.
1. Fasting glucose. This test is routinely done to look for diabetes. Anything over 126 mg/dl fasting is now considered diabetes. It is important to realize that this is not usually done from a preventative perspective. If the number is 126 or higher, the wagon is already broke. I have seen people just under 126 and they were told it was normal. Obviously that person is headed in the wrong direction.
2. Fasting insulin. This test is not always done, but it should be. It is important because insulin levels dictate glucose levels. One can have insulin that is too high but still maintain a normal glucose level. This is an indication of impending trouble, as eventually glucose levels will rise. Normal fasting insulin range is 6-35 mclU/ml as well as for a two hour post meal test.
3. Triglycerides. This blood fat is associated with cardiovascular disease and several inflammatory conditions. Triglycerides should be half or less of total cholesterol and never above 160 mg/dl.
4. Oxidized LDL cholesterol. While there is not a strong correlation between total cholesterol and heart disease, there is between oxidized LDL and heart disease. Oxidized LDL can be injurious to arterial walls which may lead to plaques and blockages. Metabolic Syndrome increases the amount of free radicals in the body.
5. Blood pressure. High blood pressure is a health risk factor. It is generally accepted that 120/80 is a healthy number. Blood pressure refers to the amount of pressure within the arteries. Pressure increases usually for one or both of two reasons. One is higher pumping of blood from the heart or a lack of flexibility of the artery walls. Both of these can be caused by Metabolic Syndrome. Insulin can trigger high blood pressure by causing the body to retain sodium and it also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which creates a stress response by releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol constricts blood vessels as well as being very inflammatory. A person’s diet, which affects insulin, is extremely important in maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Refined carbohydrates are the main reason for Metabolic Syndrome. The more refined the food, the bigger the glucose spike and the more the pancreas has to respond with insulin. Eating this way has consequences. The body may be able to compensate for years, but eventually it will tire and its resources will exhaust. Diet is the simplest and most effective way of controlling our health. A good rule of thumb is to eat food as close to its natural state as possible. This is the best way to avoid glucose spikes. Eating an apple doesn’t spike glucose, but eating apple sauce will, and drinking concentrated apple juice will even more. Natural fruit sugar (fructose) isn’t nearly as harmful as high fructose corn syrup, etc. Also, combinations of foods matter because they average out. Eating something that doesn’t cause glucose spiking with something that does (like a baked potato) is helpful. The focus on saturated fat as being the big health villain was a distraction to keep people’s focus off of the harmful effects of sugar and refined carbohydrates. That is not to say that the quality of fats aren’t important. They are, but the same rule applies. Keep the fats natural. Unnatural (hydrogenated) fats are very unhealthy.
Next newsletter I will discuss symptoms to look out for that may be explained by Metabolic Syndrome and also natural ways to control and even reverse it.
Dr. Dennis K. Crawford
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