Health Spotlight: Metabolic Syndrome

Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce - Wednesday, April 04, 2012

This blog entry was contributed by: Mary C. Cafarelli, Supervisor Cardiac Rehab Services. You can contact her at: Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center -

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is not a disease in itself. Instead, it's a group of risk factors -- high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat.

Obviously, having any one of these risk factors isn't good. But when they're combined, they set the stage for grave problems. These risk factors double your risk of blood vessel and heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. They increase your risk of diabetes by five times.

Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are five risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome.

To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you would have at least three of these risk factors.

Large Waist Size

For men: 40 inches or larger

For women: 35 inches or larger


Cholesterol: High Triglycerides


150 mg/dL or higher


Using cholesterol medication


Cholesterol: Low HDL

(good cholesterol)


For men: Less than 40 mg/dL

For women: 50 mg/dL


Using cholesterol medication

High Blood Pressure


Having blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or greater

Using high blood pressure medicine

Blood Sugar: High Fasting

Glucose Level

100 mg/dL or higher

What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

It's a collection of risk factors, not a single disease. So it probably has many different causes. Some risk factors are:

Insulin resistance - A hormone that helps your body use glucose -- a simple sugar made from the food you eat -- as energy. In people with insulin resistance, the insulin doesn't work as well so your body keeps making more and more of it to cope with the rising level of glucose, leading to diabetes.  Insulin resistance is closely connected to having excess weight in the belly.

Obesity - especially abdominal obesity.  Having extra fat in the belly -- as opposed to elsewhere in the body -- seems to increase your risk.

Unhealthy lifestyle - Eating a diet high in fats and not getting enough physical activity can play a role.

Hormonal imbalance - Hormones may play a role. For instance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) -- a condition that affects fertility -- is related to hormonal imbalance and metabolic syndrome.

If you've just been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, don’t be anxious. It's time to get serious about improving your health. Making simple changes to your habits now can prevent serious illness in the future.

How do I prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome?

Lose weight - Moderate weight loss, in the range of 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight, can help restore your body's ability to recognize insulin and greatly reduce the chance that the syndrome will evolve into a more serious illness. 

Exercise - Increased activity alone can improve your insulin levels. Aerobic exercise such as a brisk 30-minute daily walk can result in a weight loss, improved blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of developing diabetes. Most health care providers recommend 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. 

Dietary changes - Maintain a diet that keeps carbohydrates to no more than 50 percent of total calories. Eat foods defined as complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread, brown rice, and sugars that are unrefined. Increase your fiber consumption by eating legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Reduce your intake of red meats and poultry. Consume healthy fats such as those in canola oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil and nuts. 

Limit alcohol intake - Consume no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men.

Subscribe to latest blog posts