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Metabolic syndrome is making headlines because it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes—but what exactly is it and how can you avoid it?

Defining Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome (formerly referred to as syndrome X) is not a disease, but a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. These risk factors are: abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels. Taken alone, these risk factors are no good—but when combined, they can create a foundation for larger health problems. Metabolic syndrome doubles the risk of heart disease and increases the risk of diabetes by five times. In other words, this syndrome is nothing to mess around with.

Diagnosing Metabolic Syndrome

There are five risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. Individuals with three or more of these risk factors are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. They are as follows:

1.High blood pressure: Individuals who take blood pressure medication or have blood pressure of 135/85 mm Hg or higher are considered to have high blood pressure.

2.Large waist size: This refers to a waist size of 35 inches or larger (40 inches for men) measured just above the belly button.

3.High LDL (“bad” cholesterol): Individuals who take cholesterol medication or have a triglyceride count of 150 mg/DL or higher.

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4.Low HDL (“good” cholesterol): Individuals who take cholesterol medication or have an HDL count of 50 mg/DL or lower (40 mg/DL for men).

5.High blood sugar levels: Individuals whose fasting glucose levels are 100 mg/DL or higher.

What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome likely has several causes—but one thing is for sure, our lifestyle and dietary habits play a role. While insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances may be associated with the syndrome, there are plenty of other factors that are in our control—such as obesity, poor nutrition, and sedentary lifestyle habits.

There may be a genetic connection to metabolic syndrome. Some people are genetically predisposed to insulin resistance; however, this doesn’t mean they are destined to develop metabolic syndrome. In truth, excess body fat and physical inactivity can elicit insulin resistance in this population—and eventually result in metabolic syndrome. In other words, despite a genetic link, individuals can avoid metabolic syndrome through proper diet and exercise.

Who Has Metabolic Syndrome?

According to the American Heart Association, over 50 million Americans have metabolic syndrome and this number may be growing. The syndrome is becoming increasingly common and appears to be contributing to the epidemic of heart disease and diabetes. If you suspect you have any of the risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, speak with your physician about lifestyle and dietary changes you can make now—before you’re diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

It’s easier to stay healthy than it is to restore health once we’ve let it slip away. A little preventive health care goes a long way to keeping you happy and healthy for years to come.