Metabolic syndrome is perhaps the most common and serious condition you have never heard of. (At least that’s what I discovered when I asked friends and relatives about it.) Worse, a study published recently in JAMA shows that it is on the rise.
Let’s start with the name, according to Merriam-Webster:
Metabolic: Related to chemical changes in living cells by which energy is supplied for vital processes and activities and new material is assimilated
Syndrome: A group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition.
So now you know what metabolic syndrome is, right? Maybe not. Just knowing what the words in his name mean doesn’t help much in this case.
Definition of metabolic syndrome
According to the most widely accepted definition, a person has a metabolic syndrome when at least three of the following are present:
- Obesity: A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, or tall (over 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women)
- High blood triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood): greater than 150 mg / dL
- Low HDL cholesterol (good): Less than 40 mg / dL in men or 50 mg / dL in women
- High blood pressure: 130 mmHg or more (systolic pressure), or 85 mmHg or more (diastolic pressure), or previously diagnosed hypertension that requires medication
- High blood sugar: A fasting plasma glucose level of 100 mg / dL or more, or taking diabetes medications.
Why metabolic syndrome is important
While each component of metabolic syndrome alone can cause health problems, a combination of these greatly increases the risk of having
- cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks and strokes)
- liver and kidney disease
- Sleep Apnea
And this is only a partial list. It is likely that we will learn about other health risks associated with metabolic syndrome in the future.
Metabolic syndrome is on the rise
New study explores how common and metabolic syndrome is. The researchers analyzed survey data from more than 17,000 people representative of the American population in terms of sex, race and ethnicity. While the overall prevalence of metabolic syndrome increased slightly between 2011 and 2016 – from 32.5% to 36.9% – it increased significantly among
- women (31.7% to 36.6%)
- adults 20 to 39 (16.2% to 21.3%)
- Asian adults (19.9% to 26.2%) and Hispanic adults (32.9% to 40.4%).
The rates of metabolic syndrome were similar in men and women, but increased with age (from about one in five in young adults to almost half of all people over the age of 60). Nearly 60% of Hispanic adults aged 60 and over suffered from metabolic syndrome.
These findings should perhaps not be surprising given the link between obesity and metabolic syndrome, and the well-documented obesity epidemic in this country. However, it is of particular concern that the metabolic syndrome is increasing so rapidly among certain ethnic groups and young adults, and there is currently little reason to believe that these trends will not continue in the near future.
Health disparities in metabolic syndrome
The finding that metabolic syndrome is more common in certain ethnic groups reveals significant health disparities. These disparities are significant not only in the context of long-term health consequences, but also because of the current pandemic. Certain components of the metabolic syndrome, such as obesity and hypertension, are associated with more severe COVID-19. Research also shows higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 among certain racial and ethnic groups.
For example, hospitalization rates for COVID-19 among blacks and Hispanics are four to five times higher than for non-Hispanic whites. The health disparities associated with COVID-19 may reflect a complex combination of elements – not only age and chronic medical conditions, but also genetic, social, environmental and occupational factors. Similar factors probably play a role in why the metabolic syndrome affects and increases in some groups more than in others. This is an active (and much needed) area of research.
What to do with metabolic syndrome?
The highest priority of the metabolic syndrome is prevention. Healthy habits can have a significant impact on maintaining a healthy weight and blood sugar, normal lipid levels and blood pressure. Once present, metabolic syndrome can be treated with excessive weight loss, improved diet (such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet) and, if necessary, with medications (including those that can improve blood lipids, or lower blood pressure or blood sugar).
Metabolic syndrome is an important risk factor for some of the most common and life-threatening conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We need to find ways to prevent it and treat it more effectively, especially because it seems to be increasing. A good starting point is to pay more attention to risk factors such as being overweight, lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating.
You now know what metabolic syndrome is. Since about one in three people in the United States have this condition, it is likely that someone close to you has it. Ask your doctor if this “someone” is you.
Our sincere thanks to