Metabolic syndrome raises heart-disease risk
I am often asked what is the most important thing a person can do to remain healthy and avoid serious disease. That’s easy: Don’t smoke cigarettes.
But usually the person who wants to know this isn’t a smoker. What’s the best thing a person like that can do to live a long and healthy life? My answer: Don’t get the metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome? What’s that?
Metabolic syndrome, which is sometimes called syndrome X, is a cluster of risk factors for heart disease associated with an unhealthy diet and habitual inactivity. People who have at least three of the five recognized components of metabolic syndrome are up to six times as likely as other people to develop heart disease or stroke and to die from their illness.
Metabolic syndrome is a major public health problem because it affects at least a quarter of the adults in America. Most people who have it have never heard of it. But if they do nothing, it will slowly kill them.
In El Dorado County, at least 30,000 people have the condition. In the next few years metabolic syndrome will surpass tobacco use as the leading underlying cause of heart disease and stroke in our county and throughout the United States.
Your doctor is in the best position to determine if you have metabolic syndrome, but here are the five criteria used to make the diagnosis:
Is your waist circumference too big (more than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women)? Abdominal obesity carries a bigger risk to health than fat collecting in the thighs or buttocks.
Is your blood pressure elevated (at least 130/85)?
Is the HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, in your blood too low (under 40 in men, under 50 in women)?
Is your blood sugar too high (at least 110 when fasting)? Diabetes is a well-known risk factor for heart disease and stroke, but elevations in blood sugar below diabetic levels can also increase risk as part of the Metabolic Syndrome.
Is your blood triglyceride level too high? (at least 150 when fasting)? Triglycerides are fats distinct from cholesterol that travel in the bloodstream to cells that need them. At excess levels they are implicated in cardiovascular disease.
If you’ve got three or more of these factors, you’ve got metabolic syndrome. Your risk of heart disease and stroke is substantially increased, even if you don’t smoke, you don’t have a family history of cardiovascular disease or you don’t have high levels of LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol.
Once you find out that you have metabolic syndrome, or think you may be at risk, what should you do? Short answer: Lose weight by eating less and moving more. In some cases, medications from your doctor can also help.
Losing weight is much easier said than done. We live in an environment where it easy to make bad food choices and hard to include moderate physical activity in our everyday lives. Maintaining a healthy diet and an active lifestyle is an uphill battle for most people.
But if you have metabolic syndrome, or think you are at risk, the battle is worth the fight.
Start skipping desserts, avoid fried foods, switch to skim milk, buy leaner cuts of meat or try more meatless dishes. Eat more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and more healthy fats like olive oil and those found in fish.
Start walking. If you don’t exercise already, start with just five minutes a day and build it up from there to at least 30 minutes a day, five days per week. Consider adding resistance exercises to build strength.
By eating right and being more active you will counter the metabolic syndrome on all fronts. You will reduce abdominal girth, lower your blood pressure, boost your good cholesterol, and bring down blood sugar and triglycerides to more normal levels.
You will also feel great, and you will beat heart disease and stroke before they beat you. If you’d like to know more about the metabolic syndrome, see your doctor. You could also go to http://www.familydoctor.org/826. xml.
– Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D., is health officer for El Dorado County.