Recognizing Metabolic Syndrome and Turning It Around
"There are some simple lifestyle strategies you can use to start moving out of metabolic syndrome area, and get your metabolism to work the way it is supposed to."
In today's Part 2 of his four-part series on weight and health, Dr. Keller is talking about the collection of symptoms known as Metabolic Syndrome, a condition that is increasing in the United States, and is associated with a variety of health risks. We'll talk about what it is, how to recognize it, and how to start reversing it!
- 00:35: What is Metabolic Syndrome?
- 01:27: Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
- 02:47: Causes of Metabolic Syndrome
- 06:13: Why does Insulin go up?
- 07:46: Managing Metabolic Syndrome
- 07:58: Reducing sugar
- 09:48: Avoid high fructose corn syrup
- 11:35: Exercise
- 12:21: Medications
- 13:02: Eating a well balanced and healthy meal
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What this basically means is that we as a population have had such a sedentary lifestyle and have had so many calories coming in that we didn’t need, that it started to alter the way our body metabolizes things. So the reason we’re talking about it today is because this metabolic syndrome that’s happening all over the world, has a lot of health issues related to it.
It’s a spectrum that can increase the risk for heart disease, it can increase your cholesterol and blood pressure, and it can lead to diabetes. These are all things that you definitely don’t want. If you find that you’re getting into this territory of metabolic syndrome, you want to reverse course as soon as possible. And you can!
Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome.
Luckily there is a very strict criteria that physicians use to kind of suss out whether they’re worried about someone having metabolic syndrome. If you have three of the following five symptoms, you could be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome:
- High blood pressure (or blood pressure higher than 130/85)
- A fasting blood sugar over 100
- Fasting Triglycerides over 150
- HDL cholesterol lower than 40
- A waist that’s more than 35 inches for women, and over 40 inches for men
If you’re dealing with some of these issues, you might want to talk to your doctor about metabolic syndrome and see if it’s something that you need to worry about.
Causes of Metabolic Syndrome
How did we get to this place where our metabolism is so messed up? The answer really comes down to something called processed sugar. This is one of the main issues. Processed sugar is something that adds a lot of calories to our diet, and starts to basically get us into this bad territory that leads to metabolic syndrome.
Many of us sit at our computers all day, or sit in our cars for long periods of time, and this has led to this big shift in how our bodies process calories. This doesn’t mean that we’re lazy. Many of you work really hard at your computers, but it’s mental labor, not physical labor. Sugar, as you know, is a great thing. It not only tastes very good but our bodies depend on it. Sugar is basically the fuel for our body; it helps run our actions, our metabolic processes, even our thoughts run on sugar. However, too much of it can really be toxic to us. Insulin, which is often implicated in diabetes, is important because it’s what helps us get sugar where it needs to go. Insulin helps direct sugar into our muscles to be used as fuel, it helps store fat in our livers, and basically our fat deposits, so we can use that energy later. It keeps our whole metabolic system going.
It’s a great thing when it’s working well. We really can’t live without it. In fact back in the day, people who had low insulin, like type 1 diabetes, if they weren’t able to make insulin anymore they would die very quickly. Definitely, we can’t live without it. However, there is something that happens in metabolic syndrome where our insulin starts to act inappropriately. It’s a little bit of a mystery as to why this starts to happen but the thought is that initially we have way too much sugar or we have way too much other processed foods, and we start to gain weight.
When we start to gain weight, our insulin levels start to go up and also the insulin that we’re making just starts to not be as recognized by our body. So we start making more of it. When we have really high levels of insulin, it causes a lot of problems for us. High insulin causes inflammation in the body, so that can be everything from inflammation in your joints to inflammation in your arteries, and your cardiovascular system, even inflammation in the skin. Some people who have eczema will notice that their skin issues get worse when their insulin goes up. Insulin causes you to gain weight, so it starts leading to more fat storage. Insulin makes you tired and it makes you hungry and all these things that basically make you feel pretty terrible.
Why does Insulin go up?
The thought is that there are two main issues. Number one is just the quantity of sugar that we’re consuming in our diet. There is sugar in everything. It’s obviously in the sweets that we’re eating, but there is also sugar in things like salad dressings, breads — just a regular whole bread from the grocery store has sugar in it — sometimes they even put sugar in your salt. It’s just ubiquitous, it’s everywhere.
The other issue is, not only are we getting too much insulin from having too much sugar, but this other phenomenon occurs where our body just stops recognizing the insulin that we’re making. The pancreas is the organ that makes insulin. If it notices that the insulin that is made is not really having the effect, it starts to make more. So then we have really high levels of insulin, and it starts having all these negative effects on our body. If you go to your physician and you’re diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you want to start to turn the tide as soon as you can, so you don’t end up with those diseases like high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, and some of the other things that it can lead to like certain cancers. You really want to get things under control.
Managing Metabolic Syndrome
There are some simple lifestyle strategies you can use to start moving out of metabolic syndrome area, and get your metabolism to work the way it is supposed to. Try some of these tips to get started.
Sugar is great, but if you start reading labels, you’ll notice where sugar is and how much of it is in sports drinks, and even the protein bars, in some breads, and other seemingly innocuous food. You want to start looking for the grams of sugar listed on your food sources. For example in Oreos, the sugar is 14 grams with a serving size of three Oreo cookies. Start to be aware of the amount of sugar in not only your foods but also your beverages. A can of coke has a total of 39 grams of sugar. This is a crazy amount of sugar.
Avoid high fructose corn syrup
Unfortunately, there is a lot of funding of corn production and a lot of this goes to high fructose corn syrup. This just makes it a very, very cheap sugar to use. There is certainly high fructose corn syrup in Oreos, and soda, and things like that, and like sugar, it hides in healthier looking foods as well. But high fructose corn syrup is not just like your regular old sugar. It actually is a lot more insidious and dangerous for you. This is because high fructose corn syrup doesn’t cause the same metabolic feedback loops in your body that regular glucose sugar does.
When you eat regular sugar, your body sends some signals that tell your body you got some sugar, and less sugar is needed. If you had high fructose corn syrup and it gets to your bloodstream, the signals that tell you that you need to reduce it don’t happen. It basically acts on your metabolism a totally different way, so that you don’t get the “full” signal or the high sugar warning. That’s why you can have a gallon of coke, but not a gallon of milk. If you try to drink a gallon of milk, you’ll feel full a long time before you’re done coke won’t have the same effect.
Exercise is so important. When you exercise and you engage your muscles, you are actually triggering the receptors on your muscles to recognize insulin better. You get to kind of prime your muscles to realize that insulin is around, and then your pancreas does not need to make as much. So not only are you burning calories but you’re also increasing the efficiency of your insulin. Remember for metabolic syndrome when you get your insulin down, you avoid all the other problems that come along with it.
Check with your doctor about underlying conditions
There may be some medications that can help to improve insulin efficiency, or help alter your metabolism, and if you do have any underlying medical conditions that could be at play, your doctor can help you with these. This could be thyroid disorder, a whole bunch of metabolic issues polycystic ovarian syndrome, etc. Talking with your physician about those particular health issues will help address the metabolic syndrome.
Eat a balanced diet
There are several simple staples you can take to keep your diet balanced and healthy.
A lot of people think that skipping breakfast is a good way to lose weight, but we disagree. It doesn’t get your metabolism primed, it doesn’t set you up for the rest of the day. A good example of what to eat for breakfast is eggs. They are a perfect little nutrient bomb. They’ve got good protein, they’ve got cholesterol, and good healthy fat for you to keep going throughout the day. There’s a lot of controversy about whether the cholesterol in eggs is good for you, but when it comes to metabolic syndrome, you would much rather be having healthy fats than the sugars that you get in a lot of other breakfast foods like cereal or toast with jelly, or things like that.
Snack throughout the day
You want to choose healthy snacks like dried nuts, cashews, and almonds. All these have got some healthy fats in them, as well as protein. They’re going to help keep you satiated for a while. You can eat something like a nut spread or mixed nut butter. You can put this on celery, which means you’re getting some fiber with it. This is a great example of a healthy snack. You can hard boil eggs as a snack as well. Organic hummus is great. If you eat hummus with pita chips, that’s okay, but even better if you can get carrot sticks, celery sticks, or other veggies like broccoli, in which case you’re getting a lot of fiber, and a lot of macronutrients that are in there. All these are good examples of a healthy snack.
If you have a carbohydrate by itself, it has a profound effect on your insulin levels; it sends them skyrocketing. But if you mix it with other macronutrients like protein, healthy fats and fiber — and fiber is the stuff that makes food chewy so there is a lot of a fiber in whole grains and in vegetables — If you can mix those together, then the carbs that you have are going to have a much less harmful to your insulin levels. They’re going to keep things balanced. For example, you want to get some fiber like spinach, you want to get healthy fats like avocado or avocado oil, olive oil, or nuts, and those are all healthy fats. Protein can also be in nuts, or you can be getting it from chicken or tuna. You can have your carbs, like berries, which are great. When you start pairing them with the fats, the fiber and the proteins then you’ve got a well balanced meal, you’re going to keep your insulin levels regulated, you’re not going to go through the spike and crash, and it’s going to have a much healthier effect on your metabolism.
Remember to definitely check your parameters there. Talk to you doctor if your blood pressure is up, if your cholesterol is up, if you know you’ve got a waist line that’s near the metabolic syndrome threshold, then start talking. Just let them know this is something that’s affecting you and then you know you’ve got to handle it before it progresses toward situations that are more dangerous, like heart disease and diabetes and things like that.
Stay tuned for parts 3 and 4 of Dr. Keller’s series, and remember: even when it seems overwhelming, making one lifestyle change at a time, can make a world of difference to your health!