As Uncle Tom stepped on the weighing scale the numbers couldn’t be more horrifying. Waistline bigger than ever, shirt’s button popping off, and to make matters worse Dr. Schnauzer warned him of excess blood sugar, high blood pressure, and abnormal triglycerides level.
“What in the world happened, Uncle Tom?”
It’s a distressing scenario we often witness from time to time.
“The typical hardworking guy turning in his 40’s now chasing a belly with skyrocketing blood biomarkers”
And the sad part is it’s so common that scientists even labeled this condition a metabolic disease.
What’s it called?
And this article will teach you everything you need to know about its causes, complications, and preventive measures.
So by definition, what is metabolic syndrome?
The Mayo Clinic defines it as a cluster of conditions composed of increased blood sugar, high blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglycerides level.
Let’s look at each of them carefully…
DEFINING THE PROBLEM
Your Blood Sugar Levels
Our bodies thrive primarily on carbohydrate, particularly a class called glucose. Every cell needs it. Your muscles, brain, etc. But in order for glucose to enter a cell it needs an enzyme, a molecular catalyst called insulin that acts as a gatekeeper.
In healthy individuals the process occurs efficiently. Upon digestion of a carbohydrate-rich meal, glucose is released, blood levels go up, and insulin is called forth to travel from the pancreas (where it’s manufactured) to the bloodstream to open the gates and allow glucose to get in, which eventually leads to a decreased sugar level in the blood.
However, with chronic consumption of refined sugar and sedentary lifestyle, a condition called insulin resistance takes place. This causes a malfunction in the insulin receptors (where insulin attaches) of cells, particularly muscles. Eventually, poor guy glucose with nowhere left to run builds up in the bloodstream. And as blood levels reach a certain point Dr. Schnauzer finally says:
Yikes! Time to take your medications, Tom.
How can you prevent it?
Prevention is better than cure as you know. So one, regular exercise has shown to increase insulin sensitivity, particularly interval training. Two, avoidance of refined sugar and processed food is another way to decrease the risk.
The Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is basically the pressure of blood circulation against the walls of blood vessels. Ideally it should read approximately 120/70 mmHg at rest, in a sitting position. However, when readings go beyond that number for years, hypertension is just around the corner.
Ganong’s Medical Physiology defines hypertension as an elevation of systemic arterial pressure, which can be produced by many diseases, causing a myriad of disorders.
But why should you care even more?
Well, for one… the incidence of atherosclerosis (when plaque builds up inside arteries) increases with hypertension, and myocardial infarcts become common. Two, it predisposes your body to thromboses (blood clots) of cerebral vessels and cerebral hemorrhages. And to make it even worse, renal failure and stroke incidents increase.
How to prevent it?
Like blood sugar, the same lifestyle changes are sufficient for the average (still) healthy population. Just as the previous statement, studies show that exercise and weight reduction are effective means of prevention for lifestyle-related diseases.
The Enigma of Weight Gain
Why do people gain weight?
That’s a million dollar question researchers pondered for eons.
And the answer will always be excess calorie intake.
No more. No less.
Yeah sure… the healthy salad and avocado shakes you’re binging on may make you feel healthy and lean, but sadly, people are so bad at estimating calories that even scientists made a study for it only to prove their point (yep, they found out there’s a discrepancy between self-reported and actual caloric intake).
The bottom line is excess calories are the culprit of weight gain. No matter the source, processed food or not, overconsumption of food is a sure way to add extra pounds. And on top of it, it brings along risks for a number of medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis, gallbladder diseases, or fatty liver.
So better start counting calories or at least familiarize yourself with the right servings!
Your Lipid Profile: Triglycerides
Aside from sugar, fat molecules float in the bloodstream too, particularly LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). From an overly simple point of view, LDL is the marker of bad cholesterol, while HDL of the good cholesterol.
The problem is, when the ratio between the two alters (i.e. high LDL and low HDL), things turn out pretty bad down there. And this change brings inflammation and heart disease right in front of you.
But how do you mess up that ratio?
It’s quite easy: Eat loads of junk and avoid healthy fats.
With the advent of great, tasty food and sugary-salty meals, it’s quite easy to give in to an orgy of fast food buffet. But mind you, that same intensity is going to come back right at you later on. The combination of trans-fat, sugar, and taste enhancers all contribute to inflammation. And the process is so complex that it deserves an article of its own. But the take home-message is this: if you want to keep that lipid profile healthy, minimize processed food and stick to homemade, properly cooked meals.
The Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Luckily, most of the time the condition is asymptomatic, except for the increase in waist size (which is actually the only visible sign). However, since this is only a cluster of different abnormalities, careful and frequent observation of biomarkers (i.e. blood sugar, blood pressure) is essential for monitoring its progression, especially as we age.
WRAPPING IT UP
Metabolic syndrome is not just a disease. It’s a cluster of different abnormalities ranging from high blood pressure, excess blood sugar, and abnormal levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. However, despite its large epidemic proportion and dangerous complications, it’s a preventable condition. All it takes is a change of lifestyle from simple dietary habits to regular exercise. As the old saying goes:
“Prevention is better than cure.”
Now it’s time to get that butt moving and build some healthy habits!
- Barret, K. E. (2010). Blood as a Circulatory Fluid & Dynamics of Blood & Lymph Flow. Sa K. E. Barret, Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology (ph. 547). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
- C, J. (2015). The effects of high-intensity interval training on glucose regulation and insulin resistance: a meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 942-61.
- Christensen, B. (June 19, 2014). Hypertension Classification. Retrieved on November 8, 2017, from Medscape: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2172178-overview
- Pi-Sunyer, X. (2009). The Medical Risks of Obesity. Postgraduate Medicine, 21–33.
- SW, L. (1992). Discrepancy between self-reported and actual caloric intake and exercise in obese subjects. The New England Journal of Medicine, 1893-8.
- Warburton, D. E. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 801–809.
- Metabolic Syndrome: A Cluster of Medical Issues You Seriously Don’t Want To Have - November 17, 2017