The five factors of metabolic syndrome

August 20, 2010

When it comes to heart disease, you know that risk factors like family history and being overweight don't work in your favor. The more issues you have, the greater your heart risk.

You should be aware of another collection of five specific factors that, in combination, can cause a condition called metabolic syndrome that can put you at far greater risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

You may have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the following risk factors:

• abdominal obesity
• high blood pressure
• high triglycerides
• abnormal cholesterol
• high blood glucose or insulin resistance

Although each factor alone increases your health risk, studies show people with metabolic syndrome are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke and more than three times as likely to develop heart disease than people without these factors. People with metabolic syndrome are five to 30 times more likely to develop diabetes.

All the components of metabolic syndrome are interrelated. Obesity and a lack of exercise often lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance contributes to poor lipid, or fat, levels in the blood, such as high triglycerides, high LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol. Abnormal lipid levels translate to plaque deposits in the arteries. Insulin resistance will also cause your body to churn out more insulin, but high insulin levels can impair your kidneys' ability to process salt, raising blood pressure.

Your doctor may diagnose metabolic syndrome if you have three of the following:

• a waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men; 35 inches or more for women
• triglycerides of 150 mg/dL or more

• HDL cholesterol levels of less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women
• blood pressure of 135/85 mm/Hg or higher

• a fasting glucose, or blood sugar, level of 100mg/dL or higher

What you can do

Although a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is a warning sign to take seriously, you can head off future trouble if you take these steps now:

• Lose weight. Losing as little as 5 percent to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce insulin levels and bring blood pressure down.

• Eat healthier. Include more fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables to aid weight loss and lower insulin levels. Cut out table salt; flavor your food with herbs and other spices instead.

• Exercise. Begin a program in which you get at least 30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise most days of the week.

• Kick the habit. Smoking increases insulin resistance and worsens the health consequences of metabolic syndrome.

• Schedule regular checkups. You'll need timely checks of your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels to see whether your lifestyle changes are enough.

• Consider drug therapy. In addition to diet and exercise, your doctor may prescribe aspirin therapy to reduce your heart-disease risk or medication to control high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol or improve insulin metabolism. Your doctor may consider prescribing weight-loss drugs to augment your diet and exercise efforts.

Still, lifestyle changes to improve your health are imperative. Drugs alone are often not enough to fix these conditions.