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What is Metabolic Syndrome?

  • , par SANUSq Research team
What is metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome affects more than 30 percent of individuals over the age of 60. A serious health condition with implications of its own, metabolic syndrome also increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other inflammatory conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and even cancer.

The good news is that it is possible to prevent and even reverse this serious health condition. It can be done by addressing the underlying risk factors with lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

But first, let’s understand what metabolic syndrome is and how it affects our bodies.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health conditions which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the abdomen, high levels of triglyceride or low levels of HDL - "good" cholesterol. If you have three or more of these conditions, you can be officially diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is known by several names including insulin resistance syndrome, metabolic disease, syndrome X or dysmetabolic syndrome. To understand more about metabolic syndrome, let’s see how metabolism usually works in a healthy body.

When you eat food, your body converts it into glucose and releases it into the bloodstream. Your cells need this glucose to create energy. High levels of glucose in the circulation signals the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin which in turn allows glucose to enter the cells.

What happens when you regularly eat a diet rich in sugar and refined carbohydrates? There is a jump in your blood sugar levels and your pancreas secretes more insulin to help cells use this extra glucose. After a while, your cells may develop resistance to insulin, a condition called insulin resistance. Your cells can’t use glucose, which leads to spikes in blood sugar levels and a further increase in insulin. This situation primes the body to develop pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and other chronic inflammatory diseases.

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Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

  • Age
  • Poor sleep
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • Family history of diabetes, obesity and heart disease
  • Unhealthy diet rich in refined carbohydrates and trans fats
  • Existing conditions like heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver

Approximately, 85 percent of individuals who show symptoms of type 2 diabetes have metabolic syndrome. A lack of physical activity and excessive body fat are the primary causes of metabolic syndrome. A study carried in 2017 show that engaging in 60 minutes of exercise per week reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome. Furthermore, adding aerobic workouts to the training of participants lowered the risks by a further 25 percent (1).

Do you have metabolic syndrome?

Unfortunately, people with this disorder may not show any obvious symptoms, which makes metabolic syndrome a challenging condition to catch in time. As discussed above, metabolic syndrome comprises of a group of five risk factors. To diagnose this condition, your healthcare provider will need to ascertain the presence of at least three of these conditions, most of which can only be conformed through blood work in a laboratory. While most of the risk factors have no symptoms, excessive fat around the waist is a visible sign that should be taken as a red flag.

What to watch out for?

1. Abdominal obesity

  • Men with waist circumference more than 40 inches
  • Women with waist circumference more than 35 inches

2. High Fasting Blood Sugar

  • Fasting blood sugar levels (the amount of glucose after fasting) greater than 100 mg/ dl

3. High Blood Pressure

  • Blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 mmHg

4. High Triglycerides

  • Triglycerides levels greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL

5. Low HDL (good) Cholesterol

  • HDL levels of less than 40 mg/dlin men
  • HDL levels less than 50 mg/d in women

There is something else that may indicate the presence of metabolic syndrome. A skin condition, called Acanthosis nigricans may also serve as a marker for developing the syndrome. People with this condition develop dark, rough patches on the skin, especially in areas where the skin folds. It is another sign that you must consult your doctor and be screened for metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance. Such patches may be present on the back of the neck, under breasts, armpits, knuckles and knees. This skin condition is a useful tool in rapidly identifying people who are at an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Can you prevent or treat metabolic syndrome naturally?

Metabolic syndrome is a serious health concern. People diagnosed with this condition have a higher chance of developing other inflammatory conditions. It increases your risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Inflammation in large and small blood vessels
  • Thickening and narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Type 2 diabetes, which puts you at additional health risks such as kidney problems, neuropathy and retinopathy

Fortunately, you can prevent as well as manage this disorder by making some positive changes in your diet and overall lifestyle.

1. Eat healthy

Include of lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and whole grains in your diet. A meta-analysis published by the Nutrition Society in 2017 suggested that people should consume more fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome (2).

A series of randomized-controlled interventional trials showed that omega-3 in fatty fish and other foods (such as walnuts and flaxseed) help to reduce blood pressure, triglyceride levels and LDL cholesterol, that are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (3).

Whole grains are another important addition to your diet when you want to fight or prevent metabolic syndrome. These foods are rich in fiber and have proven benefits for keeping the symptoms of metabolic syndrome in check (4).

Lima beans, soybeans and kidney peas are some great tasting legumes to add to your diet. These are dietary staples which are high in protein and antioxidants. They are particularly good at keeping the levels of blood sugar normal and reducing your risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

A 2018 report on a randomized trial published in the European Journal of Nutrition discovered that a diet of soybeans reduced metabolic syndrome symptoms in study participants (5).

In addition to eating diet comprising of fresh and healthy foods, it is equally important to avoid processed foods. Take dietary supplements like magnesium and vitamin D. Studies show that vitamin D deficiency increases insulin resistance and obesity and also impairs function of beta cells, which in turn raises the odds of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Vitamin D helps in improving insulin resistance and sensitivity. It also lowers inflammation in the body, which high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream trigger.

Magnesium deficiency is also known to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome. Studies show that healthy intake of magnesium in your diet lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome and also improves insulin resistance. [6] [7]. In fact, magnesium may even help to the extent of controlling the risk of developing diabetes in people who already are at a high risk. [8]

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2. Lose Weight

Losing weight through diet and exercise can reduce your blood pressure and keep your insulin resistance in check. This also lowers your risk of diabetes.

3. Stop Smoking

Smoking not only increases your risk of metabolic syndrome but also aggravates the associated symptoms. When you quit smoking, you not only lower the associated risk factors but also significantly cut down the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, vascular inflammation and kidney disease.

4. Be physically active

Sedentary lifestyle makes you prone to developing metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Regular exercise, along with other lifestyle changes, is considered one of the most effective strategies to prevent and control metabolic syndrome and other conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In addition, it is important to regularly monitor various parameters associated with metabolic syndrome such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Keeping these readings within a healthy recommended range is important to reduce the risk as well as to prevent this metabolic disorder from ‘exploding’ into other health conditions.


Metabolic syndrome is a disorder that is a combination of three or more health conditions. These include a high blood sugar level, abdominal (central) obesity, high levels of lipids in the blood, hypertension and low levels of cholesterol. Being overweight and a lack of physical activity are major risk factors for metabolic syndrome. There are no visible symptoms for this condition, except for a large waistline.

Eating a diet that includes whole grain, fish, legumes, vegetables, and fruits are beneficial for metabolic health. Losing weight, engaging in regular physical activity and quitting smoking are some important lifestyle choices that will reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. These lifestyle-based modifications are crucial for improving many other health parameters too.


  1. Metabolic syndrome. (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2018, from
  2. Bakker et al. Association of Resistance Exercise, Independent of and Combined With Aerobic Exercise, With the Incidence of Metabolic Syndrome. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2017.02.018
  3. Shin, J. Y., Kim, J. Y., Kang, H. T., Han, K. H. & Shim, J. Y. Effect of fruits and vegetables on metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta- analysis of randomized controlled trials. International journal of food sciences and nutrition Public Health Nutrition. 2018; 66, 416–425,
  4. Martínez-Fernández L, et al Omega-3 fatty acids and adipose tissue function in obesity and metabolic syndrome Prostaglandins Other Lipid Mediat.2015, 121, 21-41 [Pub Med Abstract]
  5. Giacco R, et al. A whole-grain cereal-based diet lowers postprandial plasma insulin and triglyceride levels in individuals with metabolic syndrome : A Randomized Controlled Trial Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014; 24(8):837-44 [Pub Med Abstract]
  6. Dibaba et al. Dietary magnesium intake and risk of metabolic syndrome: a meta-analysis. Diabetic Medicine. 2014
  7. 7. Wang et al. Dietary Magnesium Intake Improves Insulin Resistance among Non-Diabetic Individuals with Metabolic Syndrome Participating in a Dietary Trial. Nutrients 2013
  8. Hruby et al. Higher magnesium intake reduces risk of impaired glucose and insulin metabolism, and progression from prediabetes to diabetes in middle-aged Americans. Diabetes Care 2013


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