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Metabolic syndrome: how to recognize it?

Article by SoLongevity Research
Metabolic syndrome refers to the simultaneous presence of several factors that pose a risk for the onset of cardiovascular disease

What this article is about

  • Metabolic syndrome is a complex clinical condition that includes several risk factors for vascular disease
  • About half of Italians over the age of 50 are affected, and the prevalence is expected to increase in the coming years
  • Metabolic syndrome can be effectively prevented and countered by adopting a proper lifestyle

What is metabolic syndrome?

Under the name metabolic syndrome, not a single disease is identified, but a series of clinical conditions that, when present simultaneously, increase the risk of developing cardio- and cerebrovascular problems. Specifically, it is a complex clinical picture brought about by the combination of several risk factors for cardio- and cerebrovascular diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Suffering from it in Italy, according to estimates by the Higher Institute of Health, is about half of the population over the age of 50, and its prevalence is expected to increase in the coming years.

What is the cause of metabolic syndrome?

The causes of metabolic syndrome generally lie in an unhealthy lifestyle with little physical activity (sedentariness), an unbalanced diet, and consequent overweight. In addition, metabolic syndrome is associated with a genetic predisposition to resistance to insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas that is responsible for keeping blood glucose levels under control. This is why it was also called insulin resistance syndrome in the past. Finally, among the risk factors is advancing age.

What are the alarm bells for metabolic syndrome?

Five parameters are considered to diagnose metabolic syndrome: abdominal circumference, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and triglyceride levels, and fasting blood glucose.

According to the National Cholesterol Education Program-Adult Treatment Panel III (Ncep-Atp III), the “threshold” values for ascertaining metabolic syndrome are:

  • Abdominal circumference greater than or equal to 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women;
  • Blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 mm Hg (hypertension);
  • HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dl in men and 50 mg/dl in women;
  • Triglycerides equal to or greater than 150 mg/dl;
  • Fasting blood glucose equal to or greater than 110 mg/dl.

However, agreement has not yet been reached among scientific societies, including Ncep-Atp III, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Group for the Study of Insulin Resistance (EGIR), and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), which indicate slightly different values for the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, as well as a different number and combination (i.e., the simultaneous presence) of these altered parameters.

What tests are there for metabolic syndrome?

Especially after the age of 50, it is important to check your weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, and perform blood tests, such as blood glucose, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, and consult your doctor for evaluation of outcomes. In addition, because metabolic syndrome is also associated with a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance, it may be appropriate to monitor blood insulin levels as well.

How is metabolic syndrome treated?

Treatment, as well as prevention, for metabolic syndrome is mainly based on adopting a proper lifestyle. Physical activity, for example, contributes to body fat loss, lowers insulin resistance and triglyceride levels, keeps blood sugar under control, raises good cholesterol levels, and prevents hypertension. With regard to diet, in general it is necessary to reduce the intake of sugar, sodium, cholesterol and fat. In fact, a balanced diet is based on regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, while limiting that of red meat, sausages, cheese, and dairy products. Alongside these measures, to treat metabolic syndrome the doctor may find it necessary to prescribe medications or supplements that reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

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