Metabolic Syndrome: The Kitchen Sink of Conditions

Metabolic Syndrome Metabolic syndrome is incredibly common, affecting about one in four adults.
Insulin resistance on its own can be dangerous, as you’ve just discovered. But there’s worse news: If you have it, you may also have a host of related problems that tend to cluster together like birds on a telephone wire. Each of these problems on its own raises your risk of heart disease, but if you have three or more of them, your risk is double what it would be if you had only one. You’re practically a heart attack waiting to happen, even if your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol are normal.

This cluster of problems is known as metabolic syndrome. If you have this condition, you’re also an excellent candidate for diabetes, even if your blood sugar levels aren’t high yet. Indeed, 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes have metabolic syndrome.Metabolic syndrome is incredibly common here, affecting about one in four adults. Anyone can develop it, but you’re much more likely to get it as you get older. In one large study of men and women age 50 and older, 44 percent had it. If you’re carrying extra pounds, you’re even more likely to have it. Getting older, gaining weight, and being sedentary all contribute to the syndrome, but in many ways, this is a condition that you eat your way into. Diets low in fiber, high in calories, full of saturated fat, and loaded with foods that boost blood sugar quickly all contribute.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program, you have the syndrome if you have three or more of these problems.


  • 1.

    Belly fat.

    A big belly isn’t just somewhere you’ve put on extra weight. From your body’s standpoint, fat around the middle is a very different kind of fat than, say, fat on your thighs. It’s easier for this kind of fat to get into the bloodstream, where it can wreak havoc and increase the risk of heart disease. Indeed, researchers now suspect a large waist may be a better marker for heart disease risk than being overweight or obese in general.

  • 2.

    High triglyceride levels.

    These fats are stored in the blood, ready to be broken down for energy. Even a mild elevation can increase your risk of heart disease.

  • 3.

    Low HDL cholesterol levels.

    You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about “good” HDL cholesterol. It’s the kind your body uses to pull “bad” LDL cholesterol out of the blood and transport it back to the liver, where it’s broken down. Levels of HDL are often low in people with metabolic syndrome.

  • 4.

    High blood pressure.

    Blood pressure is also often elevated in metabolic syndrome. It may not be high enough for your doctor to diagnose you as having high blood pressure, but along with the other factors, it’s bad for your heart.

  • 5.

    High fasting glucose levels.

    Your blood sugar may not be high enough to qualify you as having diabetes, but it still increases your risk of developing both diabetes and heart disease. The cause is insulin resistance. 

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