Call it a silent epidemic. An estimated one in four adults is afflicted with
the condition known as metabolic syndrome, and many of them don't even know
Obesity and lack of exercise are key components of this dangerous condition,
which puts you at risk of developing serious health problems. That makes
metabolic syndrome yet another reason to adopt healthier eating and exercise
Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors -- unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess belly fat -- that may raise your risks of serious illness, such as diabetes, and blood vessel and heart disease.
If you've been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome -- or are worried you might have it -- here are some questions to ask your doctor. Print them out before your next appointment.
Do I have any metabolic syndrome risk factors?
Will I need medicine to...
According to the National Cholesterol Education Panel, if you have at least
three of the following characteristics, you're classified as having metabolic
Abdominal obesity (a waist size greater than 40 inches for men,
and 35 inches for women)
Triglyceride levels of 150 or higher
HDL (good cholesterol) of less than 40 in men and 50 in women
Blood pressure of 130/85 or higher
Fasting blood sugar of 110 or more
The clustering of these traits has been linked to an increased risk for
heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. And the more of them you
have, the greater your risk.
It's very important to "know your numbers'': your cholesterol levels,
blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels (blood fats). That's
because even someone who is only mildly overweight -- but who carries the extra
fat around their middle and has mild high blood pressure and elevated blood
sugar -- is at risk.
Most people with metabolic syndrome also have insulin resistance. That means
the body does not properly use insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar
levels. An estimated 86% of people with diabetes also have metabolic
What Causes It?
A diet high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and calories along with a lack of
regular physical activity can certainly contribute to the risk factors for
The actual causes of metabolic syndrome may be many, but researchers lean
toward insulin resistance as the underlying problem.
Overweight people tend to develop a resistance to insulin -- a hormone that
regulates blood sugar levels, pushing sugar into the body's cells, where it is
used for energy. When you're resistant to insulin, blood sugar isn't
effectively delivered into the cells. That leads to high blood-sugar levels in
the bloodstream, which is one of the symptoms (and causes) of type 2
A Growing Problem
A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that
metabolic syndrome is on the rise, especially among adults in their mid-30s.
Researchers found that the young adults with metabolic syndrome had gained fat
around their midsections and were much less physically active in their 30s,
compared to their teen years. The researchers also noted that more men were
diagnosed with the condition than women in this age group.
According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, some 24% of young
adults over 20 have metabolic syndrome. That number swells to 44% by age