Metabolic Syndrome

But I’m not Diabetic!  Why change NOW?

What is Metabolic Syndrome anyways?  I thought I just needed to lose a few pounds……

 Metabolic syndrome is not a disease or a condition per se, but rather a group of risk factors that put an individual at risk for cardio-metabolic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.  A person has metabolic syndrome if they have 3 out of 5 of the following:

  •      Abdominal Obesity (i.e. apple shaped, spare tire, love handles, beer gut)

  •      High Blood Pressure

  •     High Triglycerides

  •     Elevated Fasting Blood Glucose

  •     Low HDL Cholesterol

Having metabolic syndrome signifies that an individual has some degree of metabolic dysfunction, meaning that there is a problem in a way their bodies use and store energy.  What is this problem?  It involves insulin.

What is insulin and why does it matter if your not yet diabetic?

It turns out, insulin matters a lot.

In short, insulin is secreted by the pancreas to enable our body to use the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that we eat.  It is a building hormone.  Without getting into TOO much biochemistry, I will attempt to explain the most important roles as it relates to metabolic syndrome.  One of the roles of insulin is to help glucose in our blood to enter into skeletal muscle and fat tissue for storage.  When blood sugar rises above the normal range (after a high carbohydrate meal for example), insulin is secreted to push the excess glucose into cells, bringing the blood sugar back down to a normal level. 

 Insulin is the storage hormone. When it is around in the blood, it promotes storage of molecules in the form of fat in fat cells (and some in muscle cells).  When insulin levels in the blood are high, your body cannot access the stored fat to use as energy.  When insulin levels are low, your body can access stored fat and use it for energy.  This is normally a healthy flux that allows us to store and use energy effectively, without a net gain of stored fat. 

When does insulin become a problem? 

Carbohydrates (and protein to a lesser extent) in the diet cause blood glucose levels to rise, which leads to a subsequent rise in insulin to help the body clear this excess glucose from the blood.  When this goes on for a long time (like in someone consuming a typical standard American diet that is high in carbohydrates), the cells start to become resistant to the effects of insulin. When this happens, your pancreas has to produce higher levels of insulin to get the same effect of lowering the blood glucose and getting the sugar into the cells.  Think of becoming tolerant or “resistant” to the effects of alcohol…you have to drink more to get the same buzz.  This is similar.  This is insulin resistance.   This is occurring LONG before someone is ever diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes.  Why?  Because for a long time, the body is still able to over-produce insulin to keep blood sugar levels within the normal range.  This is a key point at which dietary and lifestyle intervention could easily reverse the path towards diabetes before it has occurred. 

At this point, insulin levels are chronically high in the blood.  As mentioned above, insulin is the fat storage hormone. When it is around in high levels, the body is unable to access stored body fat to use for energy and continues to store fat. This results in a net fat gain and inability to burn fat usually despite calorie restriction.  This is what drives metabolic syndrome.

What happens when high insulin levels continue?  Your pancreas can no longer keep up, your cells become increasingly resistant, and this is when your blood sugar levels start to rise.  At this point, you are diagnosed as pre-diabetic or diabetic depending on how high your blood glucose levels are.

 

CLIF Notes: 

A key point to understand from this is that metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance occur LONG before the diagnosis of diabetes.  Therefore, if you fit the criteria for metabolic syndrome, it is likely that you have some level of insulin resistance, and there is much you can do to reverse this process before it progresses to diabetes.  My goal is to help you create lasting, sustainable lifestyle changes to prevent the longterm consequences of metabolic syndrome such as progression to diabetes to cardiovascular disease.  I want to empower you with the knowledge and tools to live a life of health and wellness, and bring your body back to a state of vitality.