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The Effects of Metabolic Syndrome and How They Can be Reversed

For many of us, it seems like the older we get the more health issues we have. In our 20s, we have fewer health complaints so routine check-ups often come back clear or we don’t even bother to get them. In recent years, by the mid-30s, sometimes earlier, the story is changing rapidly.

The signs of metabolic disease have started to appear at younger and younger ages, even in some children.  Doctors start warning us to watch our diet and weight. Those in the mid-40s and 50s are often living with one or two lifestyle diseases. Past the age of 60, the number of us that are disease-free is even smaller.

Why are we getting sicker each year? The primary reason that more people are gaining weight and getting sick is due to changes in our food supply and our environment over the past 50 years.  Changes in our food supply - increased use of herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics - has changed our microbiomes and dysregulated our metabolism resulting in something called metabolic syndrome.  Chemicals in our environment - water, air, and household products - increases the level of stress on our cells and impacts metabolism too.  Scientists estimate that about 37% of American adults have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome has been associated with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease: three of the major illnesses in adults. 

But is it possible to achieve old age without contracting these so-called lifestyle diseases? Keep reading to learn more about the effects of metabolic syndrome and how they can be reversed.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome refers to a constellation of symptoms including high blood glucose, high blood pressure, abdominal obesity and high triglycerides, that together increase your risk of developing diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Other common names for metabolic syndrome are syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is connected to the dysregulation of insulin. For a short video explaining insulin resistance you might want to watch Dr. Jason Fungs video on YouTube.  Insulin is a hormone that shuttles glucose into cells, where it is converted to energy. 

If you have insulin resistance syndrome, your cells are less able to absorb glucose and the body releases more insulin to try and solve this problem. This results in higher amounts of both glucose and insulin in your blood.  Metabolic syndrome can increase the risk of the following illnesses:

  • Diabetes
  • Visceral obesity (having excess fat around your waistline, so a BMI of 30 or higher combines with a waist circumference of over 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women)
  • High blood pressure of 135/80 mmHg or higher (hypertension)
  • High level of triglycerides of 150 mg/dL or higher (a high amount of fat in your blood)
  • Low levels of good (HDL) cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL for men or less than 50mg/dL for women)
  • If you have three or more of the above conditions you may be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

    Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

    Lifestyle choices and environmental factors can lead to developing a condition associated with metabolic syndrome. As a result, you may experience raised insulin levels and chronic inflammation.

    Raised insulin levels are often a result of eating an excessive amount of sugar,  starch and a carbohydrate heavy diet. In some cases, metabolic syndrome may be hereditary. If a family member has metabolic syndrome or any of the associated diseases like diabetes, there’s a chance you are at greater risk to develop it if lifestyle choices are overlooked. Factors such as consuming processed foods and leading a sedentary life also play a role.

    If you have one of the following conditions, it may be a sign that you have metabolic syndrome:

  • High blood sugar 
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Gallstones
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Gout
  •  

    Metabolic Syndrome and Chronic Inflammation

    One sign you may be struggling with metabolic syndrome is if you have chronic  inflammation, which is different than acute inflammation. 

    Acute inflammation happens when you get sick or your body gets injured, and your immune system is activated to release inflammatory cells and cytokines. The inflammatory cells attack the offending agent whether it is a virus, bacteria, or toxic chemical, and remove it from your body. During this healing process, you may experience pain, swelling, bruising, and redness.

    Chronic inflammation happens when your body releases inflammatory cells, which can occur when you eat a lot of processed foods or vegetable oils, drink alcohol, smoke, experience a lot of stress, or are repeatedly exposed to environmental toxins. 

    Signs of chronic inflammation may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Redness of skin
  • Skin rash
  • Mouth sores
  •  

    Many of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome mirror those of autoimmune diseases so people often confuse the two. Autoimmune disease refers to a condition where your immune system confuses antigens with  some of your own cells as foreign and begins to attack your own tissues which is also inflammatory.  There are antibody tests that can identify autoimmune triggers.  Metabolic syndrome, on the other hand, is a combination of symptoms that indicate that your body is not processing, utilizing, and storing energy properly.

    Some popular foods in the Standard American Diet can increase inflammation. If you have metabolic syndrome, it may be best to avoid sugar, grains, fried foods, cured meats, and trans fats. 

    You can also reduce inflammation by adding certain foods into your regular diet. Many people have managed to reduce inflammation in the body by following a Mediterranean diet. This diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as oily fish, leafy greens, olive oil, and tomatoes.

    Reversing Metabolic Syndrome

    Now that you know more about metabolic syndrome you may be wondering if the condition can be reversed. Luckily, the answer is yes: if metabolic syndrome is detected during its early stages, reversal is possible.

    However,  if you allow the metabolic syndrome symptoms  to progress and linger  it can cause permanent cellular damage. This is why quick and decisive action is important.

    1. Diet and Exercise

    The first thing you should do to reverse metabolic syndrome is take steps toward achieving a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Visceral fat around your waist can be a major marker of chronic inflammation. For more information about the link between metabolic health and weight loss, read our in-depth post here. Intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways to lose weight, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and reverse metabolic syndrome.

    As you cut out processed sugar from your diet, eat plenty of nutritious whole foods such as vegetables and organic pasture raised meat. Fruit should be limited, as it contains a lot of fructose.

    Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Something as simple as walking to as many of your appointments as possible, taking the stairs, or taking regular stretching breaks if you’re sedentary for most of the day, can greatly improve your health. Little changes in habits can have a big impact.

    Weight training is perhaps the most effective form of exercise for  building muscle, increasing your metabolism and losing weight.

    2. Quit Smoking

    According to the CDC, more than 16 million Americans have a disease that was caused by smoking. Smoking introduces toxins into your body and may trigger your immune system and cause inflammation.

    Smoking is also a leading cause of diseases associated with metabolic syndrome, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. If you currently smoke, quitting the habit could be the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.

    3. Reduce Alcohol Intake

    Alcohol is another factor that can cause damaging effects on your metabolic health. One study found that drinkers in the highest category of intensity are 60% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those in the lowest category. The frequency matters, not just the volume, so reducing how often you drink alcohol or avoiding it completely can help reverse metabolic syndrome.

    4. Manage Stress

    Increased stress levels can trigger inflammation and high blood pressure, having a significant impact on your health. You can manage stress by doing breath work twice a day, incorporating a meditation practice in your life, practicing yoga, or anything else that you find helpful in calming your nervous system.

    Journaling can also be a good way to get rid of negative and destructive thoughts. If your stress levels remain high or if you're facing stressful circumstances, consider getting therapy or counseling to get you through tough periods. 

    5. Intermittent Fasting

    Intermittent fasting is a great way to reduce weight and reverse metabolic syndrome. The practice helps to reduce insulin resistance by reducing blood sugar levels. Intermittent fasting has been gaining popularity, since many people find it easier to stick to than traditional caloric restriction or fad diets. Intermittent fasting is the practice of restricting your window of eating to a more limited time window of 6-8 hours during the day and/or periodically adding in a 24 hour fast.  This allows the digestive system time to digest and properly clear all of the waste and gives the body a rest from the digestive process to work on other things like tissue repair. 

    Why Early Detection of Metabolic Syndrome is Important

    Metabolic syndrome is an early warning sign for serious illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. If left unchecked, the effects of metabolic syndrome can progress to permanent cell and organ damage. 

    Early detection of metabolic syndrome allows you to make some lifestyle changes and take medication to reverse the condition. If you're looking to take control over your health and put preventative measures in place, contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

    With gratitude,

    Martha Carlin

    Martha Carlin, Founder & CEO BiotiQuest
    Martha Carlin, is a Citizen Scientist, systems thinker, wife of Parkinson’s warrior, John Carlin, and founder of The BioCollective, a microbiome company expanding the reach of science. Since John’s diagnosis in 2002, Martha began learning the science of agriculture, nutrition, environment, infectious disease, Parkinson’s pathology and much more. In 2014, when the first research was published showing a connection between the gut bacteria and the two phenotypes of Parkinson’s, Martha quit her former career as a business turnaround expert and founded The BioCollective to accelerate the discovery of the impact of gut health on all human health, including Parkinson’s. Martha was a speaker at the White House 2016 Microbiome Initiative launch, challenging the scientific community to “think in a broader context”. Her systems thinking background and experience has led to collaborations across the scientific spectrum from neuroscience to engineering to infectious disease. She is a respected out of the box problem solver in the microbiome field and brings a unique perspective to helping others understand the connections from the soil to the food to our guts and our brains.  
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