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 term 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's metabolism process works. So the reason we’re talking about it today is because this metabolic syndrome, which is happening all over the world, has a lot of health issues associated with it.
It’s a spectrum that can increase the risk for heart disease, cholesterol, and high 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 determine 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 move us toward 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 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 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. In fact back in the day, people who had issues involving low insulin, like type 1 diabetes, if they weren’t able to make insulin anymore, they would die very quickly. So we definitely 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 it's believed 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 the insulin that we’re making is not properly recognized by our body. As a result, 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 cardiovascular system, even inflammation in the skin. Some people who have eczema may notice that their skin issues get worse when their insulin goes up. Insulin causes you to gain weight, leading to more fat storage. Insulin makes you tired and hungry and contributes to overall feeling pretty terrible.
Why does Insulin go up?
It's believed that there are two main issues. The first is the quantity of sugar that we’re consuming in our diet. There is sugar in everything. It’s obviously in sweets and desserts, but there is also sugar in products like salad dressing and bread. Sometimes they even put sugar in your salt. It’s just ubiquitous.
The second issue is that in addition to getting too much insulin from having too much sugar, another phenomenon occurs which causes our bodies to stop recognizing the insulin that we are making. The pancreas is the organ that makes insulin, and if it notices that the insulin that is made is not really having the proper effect, it starts to make more. So then we have really high levels of insulin, which starts having multiple negative effects on the 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 other conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, and some of the other problems can occur, including certain cancers. This is why it's very important 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 food labels, you’ll notice where sugar is and how much of it is included in sports drinks, protein bars, some breads, and other seemingly innocuous food. You want to start looking for the grams of sugar listed on your food sources. For example, there is 14 grams of sugar in a serving of three Oreo cookies. Start to become aware of the amount of sugar in your foods and beverages. A can of coke has a total of 39 grams of sugar, which is quite a bit.
Avoid high fructose corn syrup
Unfortunately, there is a lot of funding for corn production and a lot of this goes to the production of high fructose corn syrup. This just makes it a very cheap sugar to use. There is certainly high fructose corn syrup in Oreos, and soda, and things like that, but like sugar, it also hides in healthier looking foods. But high fructose corn syrup is not just like regular sugar. It is actually a lot more insidious and dangerous 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 notify itself that you've consumed some sugar, and less sugar is needed. If you consume high fructose corn syrup and it gets to your bloodstream, those signals don't fire. 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 drink a gallon of soda, but not a gallon of milk. If you try to drink a gallon of milk, you’ll feel full a long time before you finish, but soda won’t have the same effect.
Exercise is so important. When you exercise and you engage your muscles, you are actually triggering the receptors in your muscles to recognize insulin better. You are essentially priming your muscles to recognize that insulin is present, and that your pancreas does not need to make as much. So not only are you burning calories, you’re also increasing the efficiency of your insulin. Remember, when it comes to metabolic syndrome, getting your insulin levels down will help 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. Issues could include thyroid disorder, or a number of metabolic issues like polycystic ovarian syndrome. Talking with your physician about those particular health issues will help address 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, and it doesn’t set you up for the rest of the day. Eggs are a great food to incorporate into breakfast. They are a perfect little nutrient bomb: they’ve got good protein, cholesterol, and healthy fat 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, it's much better to eat healthy fats than the sugars that are included in a lot of other breakfast foods like cereal, jelly, or pastries.
Snack throughout the day
You want to choose healthy snacks like nuts. These contain some healthy fats as well as protein. They’re going to help keep you satiated for a while. If you don't like to eat nuts plain, you can try a nut spread or mixed nut butter. Put it on celery to get some added fiber with it. This is a great example of a healthy snack. Other good snack options include hard boiled eggs, organic hummus with pita chips, or even better with carrot sticks, celery sticks, or other veggies like broccoli. These vegetable options will help you get a lot of fiber and macronutrients.
If you consume 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 (fiber is the stuff that makes food chewy so there is a lot of a fiber in whole grains and in vegetables), then the carbs that you have are going to be much less harmful to your insulin levels.
They’re going to keep things balanced. For example, you want to get some fiber like spinach, and some healthy fats like avocado or avocado oil, olive oil, or nuts. Protein can also be found in nuts, or you can get it from chicken or tuna. You can have your carbs, like berries, which are great, and start pairing them with fats, fiber and proteins for a well-balanced meal. This will help keep your insulin levels regulated, and you won't go through the spike and crash that could otherwise occur, and it will have a much healthier effect on your metabolism.
Remember to keep an eye on all the important health parameters. Talk to you doctor if your blood pressure is up, if your cholesterol is up, or if you know your waist line that’s near the metabolic syndrome threshold. Let your healthcare provider know this is something that’s affecting you, and then you can start to get a handle on it before it progresses toward situations that are more dangerous, like heart disease and diabetes.