Although we don’t completely understand why, we do know that African American and Mexican American women are at higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, as are women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Causes of Metabolic Syndrome
Although the exact cause of metabolic syndrome hasn’t been identified, many researchers believe that it begins with insulin resistance. That’s because most people with metabolic syndrome are resistant to insulin—the hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps to transfer glucose from the blood into the body cells. As serum glucose levels rise in the blood, so does the risk of developing diabetes. For that reason, insulin resistance is often called “pre-diabetes.”
There is also a theory that hormone changes triggered by chronic stress lead to the development of abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and elevated blood lipids (triglycerides and cholesterol).
Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome
Factors most closely associated with metabolic syndrome are similar to those for heart disease and diabetes, including:
- Age. Risk increases as women age, especially after menopause.
- Ethnicity. African Americans are more prone to metabolic syndrome, and African American women are about 60% more likely than African American men to have the syndrome. Mexican Americans also have a higher risk.
- Overweight. Body mass index (BMI) greater than 25, especially when excess fat is concentrated in the abdomen.
- Personal or family history of diabetes. Women who have had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) are at higher risk, as are those who have a family member with Type 2 diabetes.
- History of heavy drinking.
- High-fat diet.
- Lack of exercise.
Diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome
The diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is based on the presence of several of the following:
- Abdominal obesity, indicated by waist measurement of 35 inches or more for women
- BMI over 25
- Elevated triglycerides
- Low HDL cholesterol
- High blood pressure (hypertension) or use of antihypertensive medication
- Elevated fasting blood glucose
- High levels of clotting factors
- Insulin resistance, as identified by Type 2 diabetes, impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance
Treating Metabolic Syndrome
A program of weight loss and exercise provides the foundation of treatment for metabolic syndrome; together, diet and exercise improve risk factors more than diet alone. Weight loss also increases HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and decreases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Losing even as little as 5 to 10% of total weight can lower blood pressure and increase sensitivity to insulin. It is also helpful to stop smoking and to reduce alcohol consumption.
There are a number of medications that can help lower blood pressure, improve insulin metabolism, lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol and/or increase weight loss. Your doctor may prescribe one or more, and it’s important to take them as prescribed while making lifestyle changes.
Weight-loss surgery, which either limits the stomach’s capacity to hold food or reduces the body’s ability to metabolize food, is reserved for people for whom diet, exercise and medication have failed.
Nutrition and Prevention
Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Lifestyle Changes
- Healthy Diet
- Reduce Stress
- Stop Smoking
- Healthy Cholesterol Levels
- Reduce Sodium
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
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