What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that, combined with overweight and obesity, increase your likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These risk factors are:
- High average blood sugar levels (insulin resistance, prediabetes and diabetes)
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL (good cholesterol)
- And often, a fatty liver too.
If you have excess abdominal weight, a BMI above 26, and are developing a prediabetic state (HbA1C over 5.6), the chances are high that you have metabolic syndrome, which can often lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This can be reversed when treated early. Left untreated, however, fatty liver can accelerate your cardiovascular conditions, high blood pressure, and unhealthy blood lipids (cholesterol). Most cholesterol and blood pressure problems relate to overall body fat excess and prediabetes blood sugar issues.
What causes metabolic syndrome?
You may be genetically predisposed to metabolic syndrome. For the majority, however, excess calories and insufficient exercise are the main causes of overweight, obesity (particularly abdominal fat) and metabolic syndrome.
Poor diet, excess antibiotics, stress, a lack of fibre (from plant foods) and more can cause gut dysbiosis – an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive system. When the bad bacteria outweighs the good, endotoxins (LPS) from the gram negative bacteria increase inflammation, which in turn increase your proinflammatory cytokines (the molecular messengers between your cells). This results in insulin resistance, which reflects your body’s inability to take out the sugar in your blood and is the most significant cause of metabolic syndrome. It also causes other pro-inflammatory processes that accelerate liver and blood vessel damage (endothelial dysfunction leading to coronary artery disease). Add abdominal obesity to the mix and the pro-inflammatory cycle is further increased, leading to NAFLD and metabolic syndrome.
The 5 stages of metabolic syndrome
Stage 1: Too many calories too often leads to an elevated production of insulin and increased insulin resistance. This in turn eventually raises your fasting blood level of insulin. Insulin resistance can be measured directly, and is also inferred by HbA1c, i.e. the average measure of blood sugar over the prior three months. An ideal adult reading is under 5%. Between 5-5.5% indicates the glucose average is rising; at 5.5% and above is the warning zone; over 5.7% is prediabetic, and HbA1c over 6.5% is generally considered the point at which diabetes is diagnosed.
Stage 2: When the insulin receptors in your body’s cells become resistant, your organs – the liver, muscles and adipose cells – can no longer effectively uptake the blood glucose. This leads to elevated blood sugar, particularly during or after a meal. As more and more insulin is required to attempt to keep your blood sugar down, the fasting insulin rises in tandem with the HbA1c. Insulin resistance is indicated by a higher than average spike in insulin, which can be measured by an insulin and glucose tolerance test. Diabetes is diagnosed when the blood sugar becomes dangerously high and the body can no longer maintain the balance.
Stage 3: Triglycerides – a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood – also rise with this process. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t immediately need to use into triglycerides and stores them in your fat cells and liver. Later, your hormones release these triglycerides for energy between meals. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, particularly from high-carbohydrate foods, you develop high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia), which is a sign of excess fat storage in the liver and fat stores. Metabolic syndrome can be diagnosed at this stage.
Stage 4: After elevated Insulin and Triglycerides levels, your HDL Cholesterol falls (the protective kind) falls. This slows down the transport of LDL cholesterol safely back from your blood vessels, so your LDL cholesterol (the bad one) eventually rises. The LDL particles get smaller and more oxidised, your blood vessels become damaged, and the arteries thicken. This can lead to heart disease and blood pressure problems, eventually risking a stroke or heart attack.
Stage 5: Under the effects of inflammation and oxidation which accompany these processes, your kidneys, eyes and nerves essentially age faster. Uncontrolled, the high blood sugars and lipids cause toxic damage to your cells. Fatty liver (NAFLD) may become more rancid, gradually scarring the liver and causing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). This process is accelerated if you are diabetic or happen to have a high burden of pollutants.
How IMI can help you
Whether metabolic syndrome is “in your genes” or the consequence of dietary and lifestyle habits, IMI’s naturopaths are skilled at supporting you at every stage. Working hand in hand with you, we can recommend impactful nutrition and lifestyle plans to prevent excess weight, gut dysbiosis, insulin resistance and diabetes, as well as potent researched herbal formulas and probiotics to protect against fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, severe liver damage and more.