Could you have Metabolic Syndrome? | Carson Tahoe Health

Obesity, High Cholesterol, and Metabolic Syndrome

We all know that high cholesterol and obesity are bad for your heart health. But combined with other health problems — such as high blood pressure — these health risks can create a perfect storm known as metabolic syndrome, which dramatically increases your chances of getting heart disease. Here, Dr. Van Epps, an independent concierge physician in Northern Nevada, shared with us the ins and outs of metabolic syndrome.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic refers to metabolism, or how the body uses energy. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that, when combined, greatly increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You may have metabolic syndrome if you have at least three of these heart disease risk factors:

  • Belly fat. This means that you carry a lot of extra weight around your middle and have a large waist circumference. Belly fat is a greater indicator of heart disease risk than fat in other places on the body. Waist circumference of 40 inches or greater for men and 35 inches or greater for women means greater risk.
  • High blood sugar. This occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal when measured while fasting (without any food or drink in your system). Blood glucose higher than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) increases risk of heart disease.
  • High triglycerides. These are blood fats that boost heart disease risk. Levels at 150 mg/dL or higher are unhealthy.
  • Low HDL. This is high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol — the higher the number, the better. Lower than 40 mg/dL for men and lower than 50 mg/dL for women raises heart disease risk.
  • High blood pressure. Anything higher than 130/85 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) increases heart risk.

People with metabolic syndrome are twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to have diabetes as people who don’t have these risk factors. It’s estimated that about 47 million people in the United States have metabolic syndrome. That means that about a quarter of the entire U.S. population is at high risk for heart disease and diabetes.

How Metabolic Syndrome Affects Your Body

Obesity can cause what’s known as insulin resistance, a condition in which the body can’t properly use the hormone insulin. Insulin is released by the pancreas, and turns glucose (sugar) in the blood into energy. Insulin resistance is linked to both metabolic syndrome and obesity, and often leads to diabetes.

High cholesterol alone is a big risk factor for heart disease — even if high LDL cholesterol isn’t a factor used in determining metabolic syndrome, it still affects your heart health. If you have metabolic syndrome, one of the best ways to reduce heart disease risk is to bring down high LDL cholesterol.

Treating Metabolic Syndrome and High Cholesterol

People with metabolic syndrome and high cholesterol — two major risk factors for heart disease — will probably have to undergo aggressive treatment to lower their high cholesterol. That means medications, along with dietary changes and lots of exercise to work off belly fat, lower LDL cholesterol, raise HDL cholesterol, and reduce blood pressure.

Cutting out foods high in saturated fats, trans fats (a particularly dangerous type of fat found in many processed foods), sodium, and cholesterol will help manage both metabolic syndrome and high cholesterol. These steps will also help you lose weight and reduce your risk of both heart disease and diabetes.

Obesity weighs heavily on your heart and your overall health. If your obesity comes with an apple shape, thicker through the middle, you should be particularly aware of your other risk factors. If your doctor doesn’t measure your waist circumference, ask her about it, or pull out a tape measure and do it yourself. Luckily, the same plan of attack — medications, diet, and exercise — can help reduce nearly all of your heart disease risk factors. So start treating your body — and your heart — right with healthy lifestyle changes.

If you have a family history of metabolic disease and notice possible symptoms, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.


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