What You Should Know About Metabolic Syndrome

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 47 million adults in the U.S. suffer from metabolic syndrome, a condition that includes a cluster of risk factors specific for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The underlying causes of metabolic syndrome are being overweight or obese and physically inactive and having genetic factors such as a family history of hypertension and heart disease.

While obesity and insulin resistance (the body's inability to properly use insulin or blood sugar) are two important causes of metabolic syndrome, it's abdominal or central obesity (excessive fat tissue around the abdomen) that is the form of obesity most strongly associated with the condition, although the connection between the two isn't fully understood. Most people with insulin resistance have central obesity.

According to criteria recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III (ATP III), a person has metabolic syndrome if he or she has three or more of the following components:

  • Central obesity as measured by waist circumference:

Men-Equal or greater than 40 inches

Women-Equal to or greater than 35 inches

  • Fasting blood triglycerides greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL
  • Reduced blood HDL ("good") cholesterol:

Men-Less than 40 mg/dL

Women-Less than 50 mg/dL

  • Elevated blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 mm Hg
  • Elevated fasting glucose equal to or greater than 100 mg/dL

Controlling Metabolic Syndrome

Until more is understood about the relationship between metabolic syndrome risk factors and the effectiveness of drug therapy, the AHA recommends making lifestyle changes to reduce the major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, including quitting smoking and reducing LDL ("bad") cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels to the recommended levels. Here are some tips to achieve those goals:

  • Aim for a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 (a BMI of 25 to 30 or greater is considered overweight/obese)
  • Increase physical activity to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity most days of the week
  •  Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, chicken and cold water fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and mackerel

Before starting any exercise or diet program, talk with your doctor to develop a weight-loss plan that works best for you.