There’s an epidemic taking hold and it’s one you might not be aware of. This condition goes by several names, including metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, or syndrome X. Around 35% of people are impacted by this disorder and many don’t know it. According to the National Institutes of Health, metabolic syndrome is set to overtake smoking as the leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Metabolic syndrome refers to a constellation of signs and symptoms that include:
· Elevated blood pressure
· A low HDL-cholesterol
· High triglycerides
· Borderline high fasting blood sugar
· A large waistline due to excessive fat storage around the middle
· If you have three or more of these signs and symptoms, you meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome and its manifestations are characterized by insulin resistance. When you’re insulin resistant, the receptors on cells that use insulin don’t respond as readily to the insulin your pancreas produces. Since the receptors don’t “unlock” as easily, less glucose enters cells and some stays in the blood stream. In response, your pancreas produces more insulin to try to push the glucose in. This places strain on your pancreas and may eventually lead to pancreas burnout. That’s when metabolic syndrome turns into type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is also a strong risk factor for heart disease. In fact, metabolic syndrome is a ticking time bomb that will likely lead to future health problems.
Fortunately, you can reverse metabolic syndrome and lower your risk of getting it in the first place through lifestyle. One of the most fundamental risk factors for metabolic syndrome is aging. Insulin resistance increases with age and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and the health problems that go with it rises too. So, it’s important to track your blood pressure, blood sugar, lipid levels, and the size of your waistline as you age. Even in the early stages, metabolic syndrome can cause damage. That’s why you want to protect yourself against it as much as possible. How can you do that?
Lose Weight if You’re Overweight
Excess body fat is a major contributor to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. The link is strongest for people who carry a high level of body fat in the midsection, around the upper abdomen and waist. It’s this pattern of obesity that’s sometimes referred to as “apple-shaped” and is usually associated with higher levels of deep abdominal fat called visceral fat. This type of deep tummy fat releases chemicals called cytokines that trigger inflammation and contribute to insulin resistance, the underlying driver of metabolic syndrome. So, the first order of business if you’re at high risk for metabolic syndrome is to get down to a healthy body-fat percentage.
One of the many benefits of exercise is that it improves insulin sensitivity. That’s important since insulin resistance is what drives metabolic syndrome. Both aerobic exercise and strength-training boost insulin sensitivity and, based on one study, there is no clear advantage of one over another. Although training with resistance improves insulin sensitivity short-term, the additional muscle you build also enhances insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation. Think of strength-training as a long-term investment in metabolic health. Make sure you’re doing both aerobic and resistance training since each offers different benefits.
Many experts believe the epidemic of metabolic syndrome is partially fueled by the rise in popularity of processed foods and sugar. Eliminating these dietary components improves insulin sensitivity by reducing rapid rises in blood sugar and by helping with weight control. Stick to a nutrient-rich diet consisting of whole foods and pattern your diet around the Mediterranean eating plan. Studies show this type of diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats, like olive, oil can reverse metabolic syndrome as well as lower mortality. In addition, a Mediterranean-style diet is diverse and flavorful. It’s one you can stick with longer term.
Sleep and Stress Control
Emotional or physical stress and inadequate sleep can trigger a rise in cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. Unfortunately, cortisol opposes the action of insulin and makes cells MORE insulin resistant. That’s why preventing and dealing with metabolic syndrome involves more than just changing your diet and level of physical activity. Even if you exercise and eat a healthy diet, stress and lack of sleep can harm your metabolic health.
Also, remember that stress and lack of sleep can worsen insulin resistance by triggering sugar cravings – and it can turn into a vicious cycle. To improve your metabolic health, head to bed as early as possible, sleep in a completely dark room, and avoid exposure to blue light from electronic devices. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and other stress-relief exercises can help you better deal with emotional stress and lower cortisol.
Vitamins and Minerals
It’s important to get a diverse array of nutrients by eating whole foods. One mineral to be mindful of is magnesium. A study showed people who consumed more dietary magnesium had a 31% lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome. A variety of whole foods are rich in magnesium, including green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, whole, grains, and dark chocolate. Also, ask your health care provider to check your vitamin D level. Several studies show a link between low vitamin D and worsening blood sugar control.
The Bottom Line
Metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are at epidemic proportions in Western countries, partially due to rising rates of obesity, the popularity of processed foods, and sedentary lifestyles. Thankfully, you can greatly lower your risk through diet and lifestyle changes. Now, you have a better idea on how to do that.
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