Health experts are calling metabolic syndrome the scourge of our modern era. Often abbreviated as MetS, metabolic syndrome is not an actual disease, but a collection of unhealthy body measurements that together dramatically increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
For example, if you have MetS, you’are five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and twice as likely to develop heart disease. And that’s not all. Preliminary research even links MetS to other diseases such as breast cancer.
A CONDITION ON THE RISE
Thanks to our nation’s growing waistlines, the incidence of MetS is increasing, even among younger adults. According to a recent study published in Diabetes Care, a whopping 34 percent of Americans have the condition–up from 29 percent just a few years ago.
Researchers looked at data from two waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the first conducted between 1988 and 1994 and the second between 1999 and 2006, in order to understand the prevalence of MetS in adults. The most significant increases occurred in women between the ages of 20 and 39.
“That was a little surprising to us,” reports Gary Liguori, Ph.D., assistant professor of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at North Dakota State University. “However, taking an epidemiologic perspective, starting in 1980 we saw an exponential increase of obesity in children. It’s (now) manifesting itself in metabolic syndrome and diabetes.”
METABOLIC SYNDROME DEFINED
How do you know if you have MetS? According to the National Institutes of Health, if you have three or more of the following measurements–each related to diet and exercise–then, unfortunately, you’ve got it.
Note that even if you’re taking meds to treat low HDL or high triglycerides, blood pressure, or blood sugar levels, they still count as risk factors on the MetS checklist:
- Large waistline. A waist circumference measurement greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.
- High triglycerides. A blood triglyceride measurement higher than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL.)
- Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol. A HDL cholesterol level measurement less than 50 mg/dL for women or 40 mg/dL for men.
- High blood pressure. A blood pressure measurement of 130 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) or higher for systolic blood pressure (the top number) and 85 mm Hg or higher for diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number.)
- High fasting blood sugar levels. A fasting blood glucose level of 100 mg/dL or higher.
ARE YOU PRONE TO METABOLIC SYNDROME?
A variety of genetic and health factors may play a role in whether you’re more likely to develop this condition, alerting you to the need to focus even more intently on lifestyle measures to prevent MetS.
Researchers are currently investigating why some people are more likely to develop MetS than others. Factors include:
- Age. You’re at greater risk as you age.
- Race. While it occurs in all races, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians have a higher prevalence than Caucasians.
- Overweight. A body mass index of more than 25 increases your risk. In addition, abdominal obesity (apple shape versus pear shape) increases risk for MetS, especially for women.
- History of diabetes. If a close relative has type 2 diabetes, or you had diabetes while pregnant, that ups your risk.
- History of polycystic ovary disease. MetS risk rises for women who’ve suffered from this hormonal disorder.
- Stress. Preliminary research suggests that women with MetS experience more stressful life events than those who don’t have the condition.
- Depression. Scientific evidence suggests that depression significantly ups the chance of developing MetS.
- Sleep problems. A December 2010 study in the journal Sleep found that people who have difficulty falling asleep, snore loudly, and don’t experience refreshing sleep are at significantly greater risk of MetS.
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