Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms that have been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. About 35% of the US adult population has metabolic syndrome. For those aged 60 or more, the rate is close to 50%.
Women are more likely to suffer with metabolic syndrome than men, and Hispanics have a higher rate than non-Hispanics.
Just What is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a group of 5 symptoms. If you have 3 or more of these symptoms you are said to have metabolic syndrome. These symptoms are:
- Elevated blood pressure of 130/85 or more.
- High triglycerides of 150 mg/dl or more
- Low HDL cholesterol, less than or equal to 40mg/dl for men and 50mg/dl in women
- Elevated fasting blood glucose levels of 100 mg/dl or more
- Central obesity generally associated with a BMI of 30 or more
A study reported in the the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that metabolic syndrome is increasing long term in the United States. In 2003-2004 the rate was 32.9% but increased to 34.7% in 2011-2012, a 5% increase. Some short term studies indicate that in recent years the rate have leveled out.
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome means that many people are suffering from increased risks for a number of diseases including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And often the symptoms and diseases result in limitations of lifestyle options. In addition, a study of members of 3 health care plans indicated that those with 3 symptoms had 60% higher costs for health care than those without symptoms. And, the costs increased by a further 24% when a fourth or or fifth symptom was added.
These individual symptoms are pretty common among Americans. About a third of Americans have high blood pressure. About a third of American have high triglycerides. A fifth of American adults have low HDL cholesterol. Slightly under 10% of the population has elevated fasting blood glucose levels. And, a third of the population is obese.
Next, let’s look at how doctors treat metabolic syndrome.
Treatment of Metabolic Syndrome
The best advice doctors can give is to avoid metabolic syndrome. To this end, WebMD advises you to:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Lose weight
- Quit smoking
Then, if this advice is not enough, you should take medicines to help you eliminate symptoms of metabolic disorder.
The traditional medical doctor is taught to identify symptoms that are not “normal” or healthy in the body. The idea is that the body is having difficulty keeping these symptoms under control, so it needs help in the form of drugs. Once a symptom is identified, the physician then prescribes one or more pharmaceutical drugs that have shown some effectiveness at reducing the symptoms.
Some types of the pharmaceutical drugs dealing with metabolic syndrome include:
|High Blood Pressure||Diuretics
ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers)
|High triglycerides||Statins like:
|Low HDL cholesterol||Prescription niacin
Fibrates such as gemfibrozil (Lopid)
Statins like simvastatin (Zocor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor)
|Elevated fasting blood glucose levels||Biguanides (Metformin)
Sulfonylureas (Amaryl, Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL)
Sodium-Glucose Transporter-2 Inhibitors
|Central obesity||Orlistat (Xenical)
While drugs can help control symptoms, they almost always have side-effects that are harmful. The doctor needs to determine if the patient will overall be better off with one drug or another.
On the other hand, most natural healing doctors believe that the body is quite capable of controlling the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome. They typically believe that, for example, high triglycerides is not caused by a lack of Zocor or Lipitor. It is caused by a less than optimal lifestyle, including diet and exercise.
Next, let’s look at some clinical studies that describe the natural causes and cures of metabolic syndrome.
Natural Treatments of Metabolic Syndrome
Natural treatments of metabolic syndrome primarily involve managing the intake of carbohydrates (like sweet beverages, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes). There are two considerations in the management of carbohydrate intake.
- Limiting the amount of carbohydrates consumed
- Consuming selected carbohydrates with a low glycemic index
Lower Carbohydrate Diet
An article in The Journal of Nutrition described two clinical trials which tested a low-fat meal plan against a low-carbohydrate meal plan. For half the trial period participants ate an amount of food that provided for their daily caloric needs. For for the other half of the trial period the participants ate less food in what we normally think of as “dieting.”
The results of these trials showed that during the non-dieting portion of the trial, the participants on a lower-carbohydrate meal plan lost significantly more abdominal fat (11%) than those consuming a lower-fat meal plan. In the traditional “dieting” phase the participants on the lower-carbohydrate meal plan lost significantly more total fat than those on a lower-fat meal plan.
The authors concluded that “restriction of dietary carbohydrate (relative to restriction of dietary fat) resulted in favorable changes in body composition, fat distribution, and glucose metabolism that may reduce the risk of T2D [type 2 diabetes].”
Another study reported in the journal Lipids worked with 40 overweight subjects who had elevated levels of triglycerides and small-dense low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL). Half the group was put on a calorie restricted low-carbohydrate meal plan and half the group was put on a calorie restricted low fat meal plan. Both meal plans provided about 1500 calories per day.
After 12 weeks, the results indicated the effectiveness of the low carbohydrate meal plan.
- The total weight loss was nearly twice as great for those in the low carbohydrate group.
- The low carbohydrate group experienced as 12% reduction in fasting glucose levels while the low fat group saw almost no change.
- The low carbohydrate group had 3 times the fasting serum total ketones of the low fat group, indicating greater mobilization and utilization of fats.
- The low carbohydrate group had significantly better measures of fasting triglycerides and higher HDL cholesterol than the low fat group.
The results indicate that a limited carbohydrate diet significantly improves the overall symptoms of metabolic syndrome, moreso than by a low fat diet.
The authors of this study conclude, “There are many options for treating obesity or the individual components of MetS [metabolic syndrome], but carbohydrate restriction has the ability to target the range of markers with a single intervention.”
Consuming Low Glycemic Index Carbohydrates
The glycemic index is a measure of how fast the carbohydrates you consume are digested to sugar and enter your blood stream. A value of 100 represents consumption of pure glucose that does not need digestion. The measure of blood glucose is taken two hours after the consumption of carbohydrates. The higher the glycemic index of a food, the faster the carbohydrate is digested to form sugar that enters the blood stream. The lower the glycemic index of the food, the slower its sugars enter the blood stream.
Low–glycemic index diets have been shown to benefit those with chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and some types of cancer.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports on a 6-mo randomized clinical trial that tried to determine effect of dietary glycemic index on a variety of metabolic risk markers.
The 122 participants were randomly assigned of the the following meal plans:
- Low glycemic index meal plans
- High glyceemic index meal plans
- Low fat meal plans as specified by the American Heart Association
104 participants completed the study. The following graph shows that the low glycemic index meal plans produced the greatest reduction in waist measurements and the greatest reduction in BMI.
In addition, the low glycemic food plan resulted in significantly improved insulin sensitivity than the low fat diet.
The authors conclude, “we showed that following a moderate-carbohydrate, LGI [low glycemic index] diet may be more effective for weight loss than a moderate-carbohydrate, HGI [high glycemic index] diet or a conventional LF [low fat] diet. Metabolic benefits observed for insulin resistance and sensitivity in subjects who were consuming an LGI diet and the tendency to improve other inflammatory and associated metabolic risk markers also indicated that LGI diets are better tools for managing obesity and its associated comorbidities.”
Conclusions You Can Use Today
Metabolic syndrome is basically a lifestyle issue. Carbohydrates are a prime controlling factor for the symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
You can reduce and even eliminate these symptoms by reducing your overall carbohydrate intake and selecting carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index.
If you do not control your carbohydrate intake you should expect your health care costs to grow and your lifestyle choices to become more limited.