You may not know exactly what metabolic syndrome is, but it’s very likely you know at least something about its components. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), metabolic syndrome is defined as a group of risk factors that, when combined, increase a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Odds are you know or are related to someone who has experienced diabetes, stroke or heart disease, so you know how serious these issues can be. Because they are so serious, if you meet the criteria for having metabolic syndrome, there are things you can and should do to reduce your risk.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says there are five conditions that are considered metabolic risk factors. “Having a waistline that is defined as greater than or equal to 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men is considered ‘central obesity,’ and is one risk factor for metabolic syndrome,” she said. “High triglycerides, defined as fasting blood triglycerides of 150 mg/dl or higher is the second. Third, low HDL, or good cholesterol, defined as less than 50 mg/dl for women and as less than 40 mg/dl for men. Next is high blood pressure, specifically 130/85 or higher. The final risk factor is an elevated blood glucose of 100 mg/dl or higher,” she explained. “It’s important to note that each of these issues can occur independently, however, they often seem to occur together. If you have three out of five of these risk factors, you’ve met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. What’s also important to note is that experts estimate that one out of every three adults meets this criteria, so it is very common,” she added.
If you have met the criteria, Tillman says there are steps you can still take to reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. “You want to begin making some healthy lifestyle changes,” Tillman said. “First, look at your nutrition. Try to eat a diet lower in carbohydrate, less sugar, fewer processed foods and fewer fast foods, while increasing your intake of proteins, vegetables and fruits. Also, aim for a healthier weight, which admittedly can be difficult for many people. This can be helped, though, by increasing physical activity, just remember to be realistic and to start where you are – for some people that means walking; for others that means a dance class or weightlifting,” she explained. “Stopping smoking also is a healthy lifestyle change, as is getting better at managing stress, which surprisingly affects everything from appetite to the desire to smoke,” she added.
“If you have metabolic syndrome, medications also can be beneficial depending on your situation,” Tillman continued. “Obviously, begin with lifestyle changes, but if you’re doing that and you find you still need help, options such as blood glucose-lowering medications, blood pressure medications, and cholesterol or lipid medications may be helpful,” she said. “Just be sure to consult with your primary care physician to determine which medications are right for you,” she added.