A quarter of a century ago, Professor Gerald Reaven of Stanford University tried to explain to the medical community that the combination of abdominal obesity, blood sugar and cholesterol imbalance along with high blood pressure are not separate conditions but a single basic disorder that he called 'syndrome X'.
Today, this common group of symptoms is known as the metabolic syndrome, but despite this important insight doctors have continued to treat these lifestyle-related problems with loads of powerful drugs. It is not uncommon for a patient with metabolic syndrome to be on 10 or more medications.
Most people have never heard of this condition, although up to one third of the population may be suffering from it. Studies have shown that people with metabolic syndrome triple their risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Further, those with metabolic syndrome have a quadrupled risk of developing diabetes. Some experts consider the metabolic syndrome a form of pre-diabetes.
Do you have it
Look out for these symptoms and features: Type II diabetes, elevated blood pressure, central obesity (overweight with fat deposits mainly around the waist), abnormal cholesterol and elevated triglyceride levels. Other associated diseases include high uric acid levels in the blood (gout), fatty liver, polycystic ovaries, excess iron (iron overload); and a severe darkening of the skin (acanthosis nigricans). A study in the medical journal - Archives of Internal Medicine - suggests that the metabolic syndrome is escalating in young adults in their 30s. In this younger age group, more men than women are affected.
The causes - insulin poisening
Research indicates that the metabolic syndrome is caused by a hormonal disturbance called insulin resistance. Insulin is a very important hormone that plays a major role in controlling blood sugar levels. If you eat foods that cause your blood sugar levels to get too high (processed carbohydrates, starches and sugars), the body responds by releasing insulin into the bloodstream to bring the sugar down. If your blood sugar is always being elevated (wrong foods, stress, no exercise), the body starts overproducing insulin. After awhile, the cells of your body begin to resist the action of insulin and you end up with high levels of insulin in your blood even though your blood sugar is not controlled. This is called insulin resistance and is the underlying cause of metabolic syndrome.
All the various components of the metabolic syndrome are caused by too much insulin. Too much insulin makes you fat around the waist. Too much insulin raises your blood pressure, elevates your cholesterol, your triglycerides and your uric acid levels. Too much insulin damages your blood vessels, promotes heart attacks and strokes, eye disease, blindness and kidney failure. Too much insulin even makes your skin darker and encourages growths and cancer.
An even greater disaster is that many people with metabolic syndrome are being treated primarily with daily insulin injections - prescribed by their doctor! It is like trying to extinguish a fire by pouring kerosene oil on it. Of course, it means that more prescriptions then need to be written for the high blood pressure, the high cholesterol, the heart disease, the poor circulation and the gout. Later, multiple eye surgeries are needed for the cataracts and the bleeding in the eye. As the kidneys begin to fail you are warned by the specialist to make sure to take all your medicines including your insulin until renal dialysis or kidney transplant is needed.
An ounce of prevention
This common medical disaster can be prevented. Start with a careful self-evaluation. Do you show any signs of any of the conditions mentioned above? Use your tape measure: If your waist measurement is approaching 40 inches for men or 34 inches for women, you are at very serious risk. Look out for signs of any other hormone imbalances: Ladies are you getting hairy or having menstrual problems? Men are you losing muscle mass or having erectile dysfunction?
Do a routine medical evaluation and ask your doctor to have your blood tested for the abnormalities mentioned above. Additional tests like a glucose tolerance test and blood insulin levels may be indicated.
TREAT THE CAUSE
The metabolic syndrome is primarily a lifestyle disorder that, in my experience, is prevented and corrected by lifestyle changes. The earlier you start, the better.
CHANGE YOUR DIET
This is most critical as what you eat dramatically influences how much insulin your body produces. To correct the problem, take a holiday from the simple carbohydrates - all the starches and sugars. You should eat generous quantities of healthy proteins combined with lots and lots of vegetables and non-sweet fruits. The Cellular Nutrition Programme is an excellent plan in which you simply replace one or two meals each day with nutritionally balanced soy protein shakes. This has an amazing impact on this problem.
Exercise powerfully enhances the benefits of proper nutrition. Start with 30 minutes of brisk walking five or more days per week. Deliberately increase your level of daily physical activity. While at it make sure to increase your exposure to sunshine as optimal levels of vitamin D are important in correcting the metabolic syndrome.
Specific supplements powerfully enhance recovery from this disorder. They include multivitamins, the B vitamins, the omega 3 fatty acids, the antioxidants vitamins A, C, E and selenium, chromium and magnesium. The spices cinnamon and curcumin are also very useful.
Chronic stress promotes and worsens all aspects of the problem as the stress hormone cortisol fans the flames of the metabolic syndrome. A very important part of the successful correction of this problem involves learning healthy stress- management strategies.
The metabolic syndrome is at its core a lifestyle disorder with many faces. Correct the cause and the symptoms disappear.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at email@example.com, or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention' contains his dietary guidelines.