More than one in three US adults have metabolic syndrome, a combination of at least three of five pre-disease-state factors, that doubles risk for heart disease and quintuples the risk for type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study reported that from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012, overall rates of metabolic syndrome rose from 33 percent to nearly 35 percent. Prevalence increased sharply with age: Only 18 percent of those ages 20 to 39 met the diagnostic criteria, compared to nearly half of those age 60 or older.
As the American population continues to age, “a large proportion of them will have metabolic syndrome, and be at risk for major diseases such as heart disease, [nonalcoholic] fatty liver disease and associated diabetes,” said study author Dr. Robert Wong, an assistant clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco. “I think it will potentially place a huge burden on our health care system.”
A “Perfect Storm” of Cardiovascular Threats
Metabolic syndrome is considered an important indicator of heart disease and stroke danger because it’s a “perfect storm” of cardiovascular risks, added Dr. Wong. Rates of the condition, which is more likely to be found in those who are overweight, have jumped in tandem with the spike in obesity.
In another new study that included 155,971 people, those with metabolic syndrome had a 1.6-fold increased risk for death from cardiovascular (CV) causes, compared to those without the syndrome. The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Metabolic syndrome may be particularly dangerous in people who also have chronic inflammation, according to a recent study of 14,719 apparently healthy women, with and without the syndrome, published in Circulation.
The researchers measured the women’s levels of the inflammatory biomarker high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) and tracked their rate of cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks and strokes) over an eight-year period. The key findings include the following:
- Among women who were free of metabolic syndrome, those who had high levels of hsCRP were 50 percent more likely to suffer CV events.
- Among women with metabolic syndrome, those with high hsCRP had nearly double the rate of CV events than those with low hsCRP.
- The combination of high hsCRP and metabolic syndrome quadrupled CV risk, compared to participants with neither of these disorders.
As we recently reported, chronic inflammation has recently been identified as a shared risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, and has been implicated in a wide range of other disorders, including depression, chronic pain, and Alzheimer’s disease. Simple blood and urine tests can check levels of inflammatory biomarkers to help evaluate risk for metabolic or cardiovascular disease.
A Gang of 5 Metabolic Villains
If you have three or more of these conditions, you have metabolic syndrome:
- A large waistline. The danger zone is a measurement of 40 inches or more for a man or 35 inches or above for a woman.
- High triglycerides: a level of this blood fat above 150 mg/dL
- Low HDL cholesterol (less than 50 mg/dL for women and less than 40 mg/dL for men).
- High blood pressure: 130/85 mmHg or higher (or you’re on blood pressure medicine).
- High fasting blood sugar: 100 mg/dL or above
If you do fit the diagnostic criteria for metabolic syndrome, there’s a lot you can do to protect your health, including exercising regularly, losing weight, and eating a healthy diet–all of which also help reduce risk for developing the condition in the first place.
“Just because you have metabolic syndrome does not mean that you can’t reverse it,” Dr. Wong reports.
A Mediterranean Diet May Help Reverse Metabolic Syndrome
In a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1,224 people ages 55 to 80 were randomly assigned to follow one of three eating plans: a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with extra nuts, or a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil. Participants were tracked for an average of 4.8 years, with these outcomes:
- Those who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil had reductions in their blood sugar and waist measurements.
- By the end of the study, 28.2 percent of those on the Mediterranean diet no longer met criteria for metabolic syndrome.
- Overall, the Mediterranean diet was more effective than the low-fat diet for reversing metabolic syndrome.
The Mediterranean diet also fights inflammation, lowers heart attack and stroke risk, and may even increase lifespan, as we recently reported. In a 2013 clinical trial, this way of eating reduced risk for major cardiovascular events by up to 30 percent, the investigators reported in New England Journal of Medicine.