What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome is defined as a “cluster of symptoms that increase disease risk,” but it’s more useful to view meeting the diagnostic criteria for Metabolic Syndrome as a clue that an individual’s cells are becoming increasingly insulin resistant. Many health scientists agree that insulin resistance may be seen as the cause of a cascade of metabolic derangements that culminate in obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

What is Insulin Resistance?

Most of us have heard of the hormone insulin. Insulin plays a crucial role in managing energy balance. The pancreas makes insulin and releases it into the blood stream when blood sugar levels are high. Insulin’s job is to lower blood sugar, and it does so by moving that sugar a) into functional cells where it can be used to fuel the cell’s activities and b) into fat storage cells, where the energy can be stored for later use. When we are young and healthy, our cells are very sensitive to insulin, meaning a little goes a long way. Our pancreas produces a small amount of insulin and blood glucose is normalized.

Over time, especially in individuals who eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, the cells become less sensitive to insulin. We call this insulin resistance. When cells are resistant to insulin, the beta cells in the pancreas have to produce more and more insulin to get blood sugars back down to normal levels. This results in chronically elevated insulin levels (which promotes further insulin resistance). Two immediate consequences of higher insulin levels are additional fat storage, particularly as belly fat, and physical hunger when blood sugars crash after an insulin spike. In normal physiology, a physical hunger cue is a reliable sign that our body needs more fuel. But in the metabolic derangement of insulin resistance, we can be hungry constantly, even when the body is overfed.

The long-term consequences of insulin resistance include Type II Diabetes when the beta cells of the pancreas, after years of being overworked producing very high levels of insulin, essentially get burnt out and their ability to produce insulin declines dramatically.

Measurable Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

The following are symptoms of insulin resistance. When any three of the following are present in an individual, they can be diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome.

1) Elevated waist circumference: Men — 40” or greater. Women — 35” or greater.

2) Elevated triglycerides: 150 mg/dL or higher.

3) Reduced HDL (“good”) cholesterol: Men — Less than 40 mg/dL. Women — Less than 50 mg/dL.

4) Elevated blood pressure: 130/85 mm Hg or higher, or use of medication for hypertension.

5) Elevated fasting glucose: Equal to or greater than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or use of medication for hyperglycemia.

Research has linked Metabolic Syndrome with elevated risk of atherosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries), cardiac events, cardiovascular disease including stroke, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease along with cirrhosis and liver failure, certain cancers, polycystic ovary syndrome, chronic kidney disease and of course, prediabetes and Type II Diabetes.

At Healthy Steps, our weight loss program is designed to directly address insulin resistance to help minimize chronic hunger, promote weight loss and target belly fat. We approach these from a metabolic view. Our meal plans and supplements are also specifically designed to improve triglycerides and blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugars.

Call us for a consultation with one of our registered dietitians and nutritionists. 707-546-7900

-Lindsay Pasdera, RDN

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