Could metabolic syndrome be putting your health at risk?

It’s rarely talked about, but metabolic syndrome is putting Aussies at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Here are the signs to look out for.

Ever heard of metabolic syndrome?

While it may not be very well known, metabolic syndrome is having a huge impact, putting one in three Australians at increased risk of heart disease, according to the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

Then there’s also the added risk of type 2 diabetes and stroke.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Also known as syndrome X or insulin-resistance syndrome, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions.

A doctor might diagnose you with the syndrome if you have three of these five risk factors:

  • A large waist circumference – generally considered to be 80cm or above for women and 94cm or higher for men
  • High blood pressure
  • Reduced levels of “good” cholesterol
  • High levels of blood triglycerides
  • High fasting blood glucose.

The role of obesity and genetics

Dr Lucy Burns, of Real Life Medicine, says metabolic syndrome is not just a growing problem, “it’s an epidemic”.

Growing obesity rates are a major factor, due in no small part to the amount of ultra-processed foods we eat, along with sedentary lifestyles and conflicting weight loss information.

Certain genetic factors are also at play, says Dr Burns.

“If you’ve got a family history of type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance or polycystic ovarian syndrome in your family, then you are more likely to have those genes that make you more susceptible,” Dr Burns says.

The dangers of becoming insulin resistant

Dr Burns says the less muscle we have, the lower our metabolic rate, which makes us more likely to develop insulin resistance – and become obese.

“Part of the issue with insulin resistance is that you no longer have the ability to access your stored fuel, which is all fat is,” she says.

“You get into a situation where you literally run out of fuel, and so the only way to get more fuel is to eat more food.”

And as we all know, it can be very difficult to figure out what’s actually good for us and what’s not.

Symptoms of metabolic syndrome

Dr Avi Charlton, from Melbourne Low Carb Clinic, says a larger waistline is often one of the first signs.

People can also feel tired, hungry all the time, or even emotional, she says.

Other symptoms can include frequent colds, urine infections, darkening of the armpits or skin tags.

Losing weight the right way

Shedding a few kilos (if you need to) may be important for metabolic health, but Dr Charlton advises against the old “calorie in, calorie out” model, which she says doesn’t account for the role of hormones.

Instead, she recommends cutting your carbohydrate and sugar intake right back and focusing on eating more protein and some good fats.

“We should be fuelling our body with nutrition, rather than desire,” Dr Charlton says.

The good news

With the right lifestyle changes, fortunately, this syndrome can be reversed.

Dr Charlton says intermittent fasting, upping your exercise (particularly strength training), snacking less, and reducing stress can also be hugely beneficial.

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Written by Larissa Ham.