Metabolic Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X, is a group of risk factors that puts you at serious risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Learn how to manage the condition by making changes to your diet and lifestyle.

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If you are overweight, have high blood pressure and high levels of sugar or fat in your blood, you may suffer from metabolic syndrome. Sometimes known as syndrome X, lifestyle modification is the treatment of choice for managing this condition.

A person is deemed to have metabolic syndrome if three or more of the following criteria are present:
Waist circumference of over 90cm in men and 80cm in women
Triglyceride level of 1.7mmol/l or more
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol of 1.0mmol/l or less in men, and 1.3mmol/l or less in women
Blood pressure of 130/85mmHg or more, or on treatment for high blood pressure
Fasting glucose level of 6.1mmol/l or more, or on treatment for diabetes


Metabolic Syndrome Causes and Risk Factors

These include: 
Age: the prevalence of metabolic syndrome increases with age
Race: in Singapore, there tends to be a higher incidence of metabolic syndrome among the Indian and Malay communities due to their dietary habits
Obesity or being overweight: a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 23 and above is one of the leading causes of metabolic syndrome
Family history of diabetes: women with high blood glucose during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) have a higher risk of getting metabolic syndrome
Other medical conditions: people with high blood pressure, lipid disorders, or polycystic ovarian syndrome may face a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome

The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk of getting heart disease. If you have all of the risk factors, you may be six times as likely to get heart disease. Even with normal cholesterol levels, you may still get a heart attack or stroke if the other risk factors are present. If you have a history of type 2 diabetes, you are likely to have metabolic syndrome.

If you adopt a sedentary lifestyle which leads to obesity, you may also be at higher risk. In fact, metabolic syndrome (like type 2 diabetes) can most often be prevented with exercise and weight loss. Anyone with a family history of type 2 diabetes who is also overweight and gets little exercise should be evaluated for glucose, lipid and blood pressure abnormalities.


Metabolic Syndrome Symptoms

Metabolic syndrome symptoms may not be noticeable, except for obesity causing a large waistline with an "apple-shaped" body figure. Persons with high blood glucose (diabetes) may have symptoms of increased thirst and urination, tiredness and blurred vision.


Metabolic Syndrome Treatment

Since physical inactivity and excess weight are the main risk factors for metabolic syndrome, getting more exercise and losing weight can help reduce the risk or prevent the complications associated with this condition. Medications may be prescribed to manage some of the underlying problems.


Prevention: Cross Out Syndrome X 

Control metabolic syndrome symptoms and reduce your risk with the following tips:


Exercise

Make managing metabolic syndrome a part of your everyday lifestyle. Plan an exercise regime based on your fitness level. If you have not been exercising regularly, start by walking for 10 to 15 minutes every day. Discuss with your doctor on a suitable exercise plan before you start. 

Once you are on a regular walking regime, you can gradually increase the distance and the pace of your walking. You should work towards walking for 30 to 60 minutes at least five days a week. If you already exercise regularly, consider adding resistance exercises (e.g. carrying low-weight dumb-bells) to build muscle strength.


Diet


This is one of the most deciding causes of metabolic syndrome. Make healthy changes to what you eat to reduce your risk of developing the condition.

Start by consuming fewer calories. Reduce your portion size per meal and avoid dessert or food cooked using unhealthy methods such as deep-frying. If you want to snack, opt for low-calorie foods such as carrot sticks. When eating out, ask for less gravy, sauces or salad dressing. Also, cut down on the amount of fat added to your starches, such as by spreading less butter on your slice of bread, and remove the skin from chicken before eating.
Consume less saturated fat by choosing reduced-fat or low-fat products, instead of the full-fat versions. Eat smaller portions of red meat or choose leaner cuts of meat. At least once a week, go without meat for your meals but do not replace meat with eggs or cheese or other food high in fat content.
Eat more whole grains. Instead of white bread and white rice, choose whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal and puffed-grain cereals.
Have more fruits and vegetables in your diet. You should have at least two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables daily.
Fish is a healthy and nutritious component to keep in your diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Avoid breading and frying the fish. Instead, try to bake, broil or steam fish.
Use healthier oils for cooking. Olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, soya oil and sunflower oil are healthier than lard or vegetable oil. 

Making small changes can bring huge benefits to your health, so start making healthier changes today.

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