The Metabolic Syndrome
Increasingly, I am seeing patients who were told by their primary doctors that they had a form of something called “Metabolic Syndrome”. In the past, many people were told they had a collection of independent problems including elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, triglycerides or hyperlipidemia, adult onset diabetes, and were overweight. Increasingly, it is recognized that these health problems are all interrelated and are, in fact, part of a syndrome that is related to weight gain.
Amazingly, over 45 million adults in the United States have Metabolic Syndrome. It is responsible for a significant part of the reduced life expectancy we are seeing in the United States.
Heart attacks and strokes occur much earlier in life in people who have hyperlipidemia, hypertension or diabetes. When a person has all of these health problems together, then the risks of early heart attacks and strokes go up considerably.
The primary unifying factor in Metabolic Syndrome is weight gain. It appears that weight gain changes the cells in our body so that they become more resistant to circulating hormones, especially insulin and leptin. This leads to many unhealthy changes in the body that result in higher blood sugar levels and higher circulating lipids. Blood pressure also rises with weight gain. You can think of elevated blood pressure as the body’s way of pumping blood through all of those extra tissues.
Other Names for Metabolic Syndrome
Insulin resistance syndrome
Doctors have struggled with how to define the Metabolic Syndrome, and in recent years have settled on a definition that requires that 3 out of 5 conditions be present (large waist, increased triglycerides, low HDL, increased blood pressure, and increased blood sugar). I will explore these in more detail in the next post on the Metabolic Syndrome.