What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome (also called syndrome X) is the name for a group of risk factors related to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Many of the risk factors are directly related to diet.

The metabolic syndrome has been defined as the presence of any three of the following five risk factors:

  • Central obesity (excess weight around the stomach). The recommended limit in waist circumference is different for people depending on their ethnicity. For Caucasian men, a waist circumference over 102 cm [40 in] and over 88 cm [35 in] for Caucasian women presents a risk to health
  • High triglycerides (fats) in the blood
  • Low levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL) in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance.

Metabolic syndrome may be partly genetic, but many symptoms also relate to lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. For some people, their bodies show signs of metabolic syndrome during adolescence. For others it doesn’t appear until middle or later life. Obesity, especially abdominal obesity seems to be an early sign, followed by insulin resistance.

A person with metabolic syndrome is at much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Lifestyle changes such as those outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines are effective for people who are overweight, have elevated triglycerides and high blood pressure. Studies also show that by losing 5-10 percent of body weight and increasing physical activity, the risk of going on to develop type 2 diabetes can be significantly reduced.

There is some evidence that the type of carbohydrate eaten may influence the body’s insulin requirements. Foods that have a low glycaemic index (GI), like whole grains, dairy foods, legumes and fruit are better choices over those with a high GI, like white bread, cakes and biscuits.  High GI foods need more insulin to clear the glucose from the blood stream and maintain blood glucose levels in the normal range. This may place stress on the body and have an impact over time.

Recent studies show that for adults over 60 years in particular, a higher whole grain intake (three or more servings per day) has been associated with a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease mortality.

To reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome:

  • Develop a healthy eating plan
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Be physically active
  • Don’t smoke.

If you already have symptoms of metabolic syndrome then your doctor may prescribe medication in conjunction to lifestyle and diet changes.

For personal assistance with developing a healthy eating and lifestyle plan contact an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).