Metabolic syndrome is a collection of problems that health experts call "risk
factors." People need to have three or more of the following risk factors before
doctors consider them to have metabolic syndrome:
excessive belly fat (having an "apple-shaped" body)
high blood pressure
abnormal levels of blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides
high blood sugar
High blood pressure
and cholesterol problems
might seem like things only old people grumble about. But that's not so anymore. The
chances of developing these problems go up if someone is overweight,
and many kids and teens fall into this category. Nearly 1 in 10 teens — and more than
a third of obese teens — have metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic Syndrome Is an Early Warning Sign
Metabolic syndrome isn't a disease. In fact, people who have it usually feel perfectly
fine. But metabolic syndrome is a signal that someone could be on the road
to serious health problems.
Diagnosing metabolic syndrome helps health professionals figure out a person's
risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or other diseases. Finding out
that you have metabolic syndrome can help you take steps to prevent diseases like
these down the road.
How Is Metabolic Syndrome Diagnosed?
If you have metabolic syndrome, you probably won't know about it until a health
professional tells you.
Doctors don't evaluate everyone for metabolic syndrome. Your doctor is less likely
to be concerned about it if you are fit and healthy. But if your health provider thinks
you're overweight or gaining weight too fast, he or she may consider metabolic syndrome
a possibility. That's especially true if you have family members with heart problems
or other weight-related diseases.
If someone has one of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, like high blood
pressure, a doctor may check for the others.
Checking for metabolic syndrome mostly involves stuff your doctor would be doing
anyway, like taking your blood pressure and calculating your body
mass index (BMI). If these are high, the doctor also might run blood tests to
check out blood sugar and fat levels.
What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?
Being overweight seems to play a major role in metabolic syndrome. Genes
do, too. Some people have a genetic tendency to some metabolic syndrome risk factors,
like high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
The risk of developing metabolic syndrome appears to be highest around puberty.
That may be because body fat, blood pressure, and lipids are all affected by the hormones
that bring about growth and development.
The good news is that you can do many things to help keep yourself from getting
the health problems that metabolic syndrome can lead to.
What Can I Do?
In the case of metabolic syndrome, making a couple of lifestyle changes is the
best way to keep yourself on a track to good health. Here are the top ones:
Drop excess pounds. If you're overweight, even a moderate amount
of weight loss can bring about big improvements in your blood pressure, blood lipid
levels, and your body's ability to use insulin.
Stop sitting and start moving. Take one of those hours you spend
in front of a screen and spend it on something that gets your blood flowing. Even
a 30-minute walk each day can greatly improve how
works in your body, and help your blood pressure and blood lipid levels.
Eat mindfully. Don't just chow down — think of food as fuel.
That doesn't mean boring eating; it just means making an effort to get the right foods
into your diet. For example: Choose complex carbs instead of simple carbs (whole-grain
bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice). Get more fiber
by eating more beans, fruits, and vegetables. Choose more foods with "healthy"
fats like olive oil and nuts, and avoid too many empty calories from soda and sweets.
Don't smoke. No surprise here — it's just about the worst thing
you can do for your heart and lungs.
It can be hard to take this stuff seriously when your thirties and forties seem
like a world away. But think about what you want your life to look like then. Maybe
you see a family, good friends, a home, a career, perhaps a pet or two. What you probably
don't see is having to live with the daily effects of diabetes
or heart disease. So why not do whatever you can now to keep those problems from happening