What is metabolic syndrome ?
Metabolic syndrome is a specific clinical condition characterized by the concurrent presence of 3 or more cardiovascular risk factors in an individual.
About 47 million adults in the U.S.A. (about 15% of the entire population) are affected by the metabolic syndrome and this number is increasing every day. This increase in the number of patients with this syndrome is caused by the increase number of obese individuals. In Italy, about 25% of men and 27% of women (about 14 million individuals) are affected by this syndrome.
The following 5 conditions are metabolic risk factors for the cardiovascular system (heart, arteries, veins). An individual may present a single one of these factors but they normally tend to show in groups. The metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when an individual presents at least 3 risk factors for cardiovascular diseases:
- a large waistline: more than 102 centimeters in men and more than 88 centimeters in women. This condition is also known an abdominal obesity: the excessive fat in the abdominal area is a higher risk factor for cardiac diseases than excessive fat in other body parts, such as the thighs;
- a high level of triglycerides in the bloodstream (over 150 mg/dl);
- a low level of HDL cholesterol (HDL is the good kind of cholesterol and it is related to high density lipoproteins) in the bloodstream: 40 mg/dl in men, 50 mg/dl in women;
- arterial hypertension (high blood pressure): over 130/85 mm Hg;
- high levels of glycaemia in the bloodstream on an empty stomach: over 110 mg/dl stadium IFG. A slightly high level of glycaemia may be a sign of early onset diabetes;
- BMI (body mass index) >30
BMI = weight (in kg)/squared height (in meters)
Example: if your weight is 100 Kg and your height is 1,75 m your BMI is 100 : (1,75 x 1,75) = 32,65
The probability of developing cardiovascular pathologies, diabetes or ictus increases if more than one of these symptoms is present.
An individual with metabolic syndrome generally incurs in twice the risk of developing cardiac pathologies and in five times the risk of developing diabetes if compared to a healthy person. Other risk factors also increase the probability of incurring in cardiac pathologies:
- an elevated level of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol: it is connected to low density lipoproteins),
- the history of diabetes in the family: it is more common to incur in the metabolic syndrome if there are cases of type 2 diabetes in the family or if the mother has diabetes during the pregnancy,
- race: Hispanics and Asians are more prone to the metabolic syndrome than other races,
- age: starting from 45 in men and 55 in women,
- resistance to insulin*.
*Normally, the digestive system divides certain food we ingest into sugars (glucose). The bloodstream transports the glucose to the tissues where the cells use it as an energetic substratum with the aid of insulin. In individuals with insulin resistance, the cells do not respond normally to the insulin and the glucose cannot enter the cells easily. The body reacts by producing more and more insulin in order to help the glucose enter the cells, but the result is that the levels of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream end up being higher than what is considered normal. Even though these levels might not be high enough for the individual to be considered diabetic, elevated levels of glucose interfere with the organism’s processed: the elevated levels of insulin increase the levels of triglycerides and of the other lipids in the bloodstream and they also interfere with the work of the kidney’s causing a higher blood pressure.
Having the metabolic syndrome means suffering from several metabolic disturbs at the same time. Individuals with this pathology do not have specific symptoms:
- they are overweight or obese with significant levels of fat around the waistline,
- they suffer from hypertension,
- they have an elevated level of triglycerides and fats in their bloodstream and they have low levels of HDL cholesterol,
- they have an excessive level of glycaemia on an empty stomach.
How is the metabolic syndrome treated?
The therapy for the metabolic syndrome consists in curing the single pathologies, although prevention is the first therapy one should adopt. A physician may cure the single pathologies with prescription drugs, but many factors can be controlled or changed by adopting a healthier lifestyle:
- physical activities: doctors recommend 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day (for example walking speedily),
- weight loss: losing 5 to 10% of one’s body weight may reduce the levels of insulin and the blood pressure,
- healthy diet: eating lots of fruits and vegetables, choosing lean white meats or fish instead of red meats, avoiding canned foods or fried foods, eliminating salt and trying other herbs and spices. The Mediterranean died is our best ally,
- stop smoking,
- program regular checkups, monitor the blood pressure, the cholesterol and glycaemia levels.