Fighting metabolic syndrome: What you can do now to protect your heart

March 30, 2021 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
metabolic syndrome

For more and more Americans, a cluster of serious risk factors for the development of heart disease and diabetes are converging to create a medical perfect storm. Known as metabolic syndrome, these risk factors include:

  • Abdominal obesity: A waist of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women
  • Blood fat disorders: High triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol
  • High blood pressure: 130/85 mm Hg or higher or taking blood pressure medication
  • Insulin resistance or glucose intolerance: Fasting blood glucose level greater than 100mg/dl or taking glucose lowering medication

One study found that 34% of adults 20 and older in the U.S. have metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. A Swedish study has also linked the syndrome to an increased potential for heart failure in men. There’s also more bad news for women with metabolic syndrome. One Mayo Clinic study found an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death for women with this group of risk factors.

How you can lower your risk of metabolic syndrome

Insulin resistance and abdominal obesity have been pinpointed as the dominant risk factors for metabolic syndrome. The good news is that there are effective strategies for combating metabolic syndrome. Adjusting your lifestyle is the first line of attack.

  • Lose weight to reach a body mass index of less than 25. Moderate weight loss of 5 to 10% of body weight in a year can significantly reduce risk. For someone who weighs 250 pounds, that equates to a loss of just 18 to 25 pounds in a year.
  • Boost physical activity. 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week is recommended. Not only does activity aid weight loss it also lowers insulin levels.
  • Change eating habits. Reduce your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Carbohydrates should make up no more than 50% of your total calories. And increase fiber intake and reduce the amount of red meat and poultry in your diet.

In addition, your doctor may recommendation medications to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

Can cutting out soda combat metabolic syndrome?

An observational study by the Framingham Heart Study team uncovered another behavior change that can help prevent metabolic syndrome—limiting the amount of soda you drink. According to their research, people who drink more than one regular or diet soda daily are at a 48% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to those who drink less than a soda a day. Other risk factors were also higher for soda drinkers, including a 30% increased risk for developing a larger waist, a 25% increased risk of developing high triglycerides or high blood glucose levels, and a 32% higher risk of having low LDL (“good cholesterol”) levels.

The researchers were surprised that diet soda drinkers faced the same risk increases, but they theorize that drinking a great deal of liquid often leads to eating more at the next meal because you’re not full. Other theories are that soda drinkers get attuned to sweetness and seek out more sweet foods or that the caramel content in sodas may promote the development of sugar complexes linked to insulin resistance and inflammation.

Develop a heart healthy strategy

Protecting yourself against metabolic syndrome and heart disease begins with a well thought out strategy. A health advisor can connect you with cardiovascular specialists who can assess your risk and help you develop an effective plan for lifelong heart health, as well as dietitians and other resources to help you make lifestyle changes.