Metabolism is the set of life-sustaining chemical reactions that are responsible for keeping you alive and helps you in carrying out your bodily functions, such as breathing, repairing cells, and digesting your food. In simple words, metabolism is the breakdown of the food you eat to convert into energy required for you to stay alive.

The food you eat is rich in vitamins, minerals, and various other nutrients. When your food is broken down by digestive enzymes, these substances are released in your body and either used immediately or stored for future use. A healthy metabolism is required to maintain your overall health, weight and to reduce the risk of serious health conditions.

When your body’s metabolism process fails, it can lead to the release of either too much or too little of the essential substances that you need for daily activities. This state is known as metabolic disorder or Syndrome X. 

Read on to find what is metabolic syndrome, its risk factors, and how you can prevent it.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is a cluster of conditions that coexist to increase your risk or likelihood of developing heart diseases, a stroke, or medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes. 

These conditions include:

1. Increased blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as high pressure (tension) in the arteries, which are the vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

2. Higher fasting blood sugar levels or insulin resistance: The hormone insulin is responsible for controlling the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. A resistance to the hormone insulin, results in increased blood sugar levels.

3. High triglyceride (TG) levels: Triglycerides are a type of fat that is derived from the food you eat, especially from oils, butter, and other fatty foods. High levels of TG increases your risk of serious heart diseases.

4. Lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol levels: Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in the cells of your body. HDL is considered as ‘good cholesterol’ because it removes cholesterols from your bloodstream. Low levels of HDL can increase your risk of death from heart diseases.

5. Central obesity (greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women): Central obesity is the excess accumulation of fat in your abdominal area.

It is important to note that having three or more factors ticked off from this list will increase your risk for health complications and result in a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.

In order to come to a complete diagnosis, your doctor might have to run a couple of tests and also check parameters like waist circumference, blood triglyceride levels, fasting blood sugar levels, or HbA1C (glycosylated hemoglobin - test to monitor long term control of diabetes) along with your blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels. Deviations in any three or more of these tests could indicate that you’re suffering from metabolic syndrome.

What are the causes of metabolic syndrome?

The exact cause of metabolic syndrome is not known. It could be a result of a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Lifestyle factors include dietary habits, activity levels, and sleep patterns.

What are some risk factors for metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome does not necessarily have specific signs and symptoms; some of its risk factors may be under your control, while others might not. Some are modifiable and some are non-modifiable risk factors.

Modifiable factors

  • Physical inactivity

  • Unhealthy diet

  • Other diseases like PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), fatty liver disease & gall bladder stones

PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age group. Fatty liver disease is a condition in which fat builds up in your liver. Gall bladder stones are hard stones formed within your gallbladder due to excessive cholesterol. 

Non-modifiable factors

  • Increasing age

  • Family history of metabolic syndrome

  • Body type (apple-shaped body types are more prone to developing metabolic syndrome than pear-shaped body types due to increased fat deposition around the waist area)

The apple body shape is also referred to as a circular or round shape. The pear body shape is characterized by large hips that are wider than the bust and shoulders. 

What other health problems can metabolic syndrome lead to?

Health complications as a result of metabolic syndrome are often long-term and include severe medical conditions like:

  • Clogging of the arteries or atherosclerosis

  • Diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Liver disease (primarily NAFL or Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver)

  • Kidney disease

How can you treat or prevent metabolic syndrome?

A commitment to a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight may help in the treatment as well as reducing your risk for developing metabolic syndrome. 

  • Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet that includes foods from all food groups such as whole grains, pulses & legumes, milk & milk products, nuts & seeds, fruits & vegetables will help one achieve optimal health in the long run.

  • Regular physical activity, be it brisk walking, jogging, running, swimming, gym workout, or playing a sport is extremely important to keep your body moving and prevent excessive weight gain.

  • Limiting the intake of packaged and processed foods helps in avoiding excessive intake of unhealthy added sugar, sodium, and trans fats which are detrimental to your health. Cutting down on smoking and alcohol will keep your body healthy and fit.

Metabolic syndrome is rare and preventable. Leading a stress-free and healthy lifestyle is the first step towards reducing your risk of metabolic syndrome. Consult your physician/endocrinologist/cardiologist for more lifestyle and dietary guidelines.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.