What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?
As is true with many medical conditions, genetics and the environment both play important roles in the development of metabolic syndrome.
Genetic factors influence each component of the syndrome, and the syndrome itself. A family history that includes type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and early heart disease greatly increases the chance that an individual will develop metabolic syndrome.
Environmental issues such as low activity level, sedentary lifestyle, and progressive weight gain also contribute significantly to the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is present in about 5% of people with normal body weight, 22% of those who are overweight and 60% of those considered obese. Adults who continue to gain 5 or more pounds per year raise their risk of developing metabolic syndrome by up to 45%.
While obesity itself is likely the greatest risk factor, others include:
- Being in postmenopause
- Eating a diet that is excessively high in carbohydrates
- Not getting enough physical activity
What Are the Dangers in Having Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a condition that can lead to both diabetes and heart disease, two of the most common chronic diseases today.
Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of type 2 diabetes (the common type of diabetes) anywhere from 9 to 30 times over the normal population. As to the risk of heart disease, studies vary, but metabolic syndrome appears to increase the risk 2 to 4 times that of the normal population.
Other health risks from metabolic syndrome include fat accumulation in the liver (fatty liver), resulting in inflammation and the potential for cirrhosis. The kidneys can also be affected, as metabolic syndrome is associated with microalbuminuria, the leaking of protein into the urine, a subtle but clear indication of kidney damage. The syndrome can also cause obstructive sleep apnea, polycystic ovary syndrome, increased risk of dementia with aging, and cognitive decline in older adults.
How Is Metabolic Syndrome Treated?
The major goals are to treat both the underlying cause of metabolic syndrome and to reduce factors that may lead to heart problems.
Lifestyle modification is the preferred treatment of metabolic syndrome. Weight reduction usually requires a specifically tailored, multifaceted program that includes diet and exercise. Medications also may be useful.
Changing Eating Habits
Diets come and go, but more recently, experts recommend the Mediterranean diet -- one that is rich in "good" fats (olive oil) and contains a reasonable amount of carbohydrates and proteins (such as from fish and chicken).
The Mediterranean diet is palatable and easy to maintain. In addition, recent studies have shown that when compared to a low-fat diet, people on the Mediterranean diet have a greater decrease in body weight and greater improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other markers of heart disease, all of which are important in evaluating and treating metabolic syndrome.