Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome is one of the most pressing risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD) and cardiovascular disease(CVD). It is a grouping, or “clustering,” of several different but connected metabolic conditions, that when combined in simultaneous incidence, propose alarming risk.

There has been something of a saga within the medical research and clinical fields in attempting to define metabolic syndrome(MS) over the past decades. Due to the rising worldwide epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, there has been a strong push in recent years to come to a universal definition of metabolic syndrome so that it can be more easily diagnosed and treated. Recognizing the need, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has recently put out a publication aiming to establish a consistent definition of this dangerous condition.

Two of the metabolic risk factors that are universally accepted as components of metabolic syndrome, and also two of the most important independent risk factors for type 2 diabetes, are insulin resistance and abdominal obesity. Insulin resistance occurs when cells in the body are unable to properly utilize the hormone insulin in metabolizing glucose (absorbing it into the cells and converting it into energy). This leads to high blood glucose levels, and if untreated, often type 2 diabetes. Abdominal obesity essentially refers to large amounts of fat in the stomach area, or waistline, and has been closely connected to both type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk. 

Beyond these two uncontested risk factors of metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and hypertension, low “good” high-density lipoprotein(HDL) cholesterol levels, and high triglyceride levels in the blood are also considered by most to be core components of metabolic syndrome, though their criteria for diagnosis varies. This variation is one of the main culprits in metabolic syndrome being underdiagnosed and unclearly defined.

For a clinical diagnosis of MS, it is usually considered necessary to be suffering from at least three of these five symptoms simultaneously. Independently, they are all risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, CHD and CVD, but taken together, drastic dietary and lifestyle changes are in order to prevent greatly increasing the risk of major complications, including death.

Early diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is imperative, and a clinically accepted definition of the condition would go a long way in helping to identify those suffering from MS before it is too late. As the IDF report states, “With the metabolic syndrome driving the twin global epidemics of type 2 diabetes and CVD there is an overwhelming moral, medical and economic imperative to identify those individuals with metabolic syndrome early, so that lifestyle interventions and treatment may prevent the development of diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.”

References and Further Reading

A good general guide to Metabolic Syndrome out of the “National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute”:

A call-to-action for epidemiologists, clinicians and conscious citizens around the world to better define, diagnose and treat Metabolic Syndrome, out of the “International Diabetes Federation”:

One specific study about Metabolic Syndrome, type 2 diabetes risk, and high triglyceride (dyslipidemia) levels:


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