Syndrome X, AKA Metabolic Syndrome, AKA Bad News
Syndrome X sounds like a disease from a sci-fi movie—something unleashed by a sinister villain to wipe out humanity. While not exactly true, Syndrome X (more widely known as metabolic syndrome) is scary stuff. This condition is a culmination of symptoms, and is typically diagnosed when three or more of the following are present: high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, low HDL levels and high blood triglycerides.
Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Your BMI (body mass index) is often used to assess your risk of metabolic syndrome. The simple formula for determining BMI is your height divided by your weight squared. A BMI of more than 25 means you are overweight, while a BMI of more than 30 puts you in the obese category. The National Institute of Health has a BMI tool you can use to determine your score, which you can access here.
Like many general indicators, your BMI score may be taken with a grain of salt. For example, if you are of Asian descent, a BMI score of 21 or higher can be problematic. Many studies argue that your waist circumference should also be taken in account when assessing risk of metabolic syndrome and/or cardiovascular disease. Measuring waist circumference and blood triglyceride levels may predict metabolic syndrome even to a higher degree.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
- Fatigue right after a high carbohydrate meal
- High blood sugar and cortisol levels
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol levels
- High levels of albumin in the urine. A microalbumin urine test measures the amount of albumin, a protein, in the urine. Albumin is not normally present in urine because it is retained in the bloodstream by your kidneys.
- Chronic inflammation
- Difficulty concentrating (“brain fog”)
- Weight gain in the gut area and/or an apple-shaped physique
- GI distress, including bloating, flatulence, constipation and/or diarrhea
- Mild depression not necessarily attributed to life events
- Erectile dysfunction
If left unchecked metabolic syndrome will progress, leading to more serious conditions, namely diabetes and heart disease. Metabolic syndrome is a disease of the modern fast food era, brought on by inadequate lifestyles and diets. Refined carbohydrates, soda, white bread, and processed foods, combined with an increasingly sedentary society, has lead to an alarming increase in metabolic syndrome. In fact, a recent study shows that more than a third of Americans are affected by metabolic syndrome.
Typical Progression of Metabolic Syndrome
- Insulin resistance (develops in childhood)
- Cholesterol problems (between 15 – 35 years of age)
- High blood pressure (between 35 – 50 years of age)
- Impaired fasting glucose (between 40 – 55 years of age)
- Diabetes (between 50 – 55 years of age)
- Cardiovascular disease (55+)
The Connection Between Metabolic Syndrome and Adrenal Function
The adrenal stress hormone cortisol is the primary instigator of the physiological changes that occur with stress, and in the process it interacts with other hormones like insulin. Cortisol and insulin work together to increase energy, but have opposite effects on blood sugar. Cortisol raises blood sugar by triggering the conversion of stored energy (glycogen) into glucose (blood sugar). Glucose is the source of energy used by most cells in the body. Insulin helps move the glucose from the blood stream into the cells, thus lowering blood sugar. When cortisol goes up (as it does during stress), blood sugar goes up; and when blood sugar goes up, insulin does too. However, when insulin is high too often or for too long, the cells develop insulin resistance. This means they become less sensitive to the effects of insulin in order to protect themselves from the harmful effects of too much glucose.
With less glucose getting into the cells, the resulting elevated blood sugar triggers increased insulin, further aggravating insulin resistance. In addition, less glucose in the cells triggers hunger, which often translates into cravings for carbohydrates. Both a diet high in refined carbohydrates and the elevated cortisol levels from frequent stress can produce a vicious cycle of insulin resistance. When chronic stress and poor diet combine with a sedentary lifestyle, they become an irresistible force driving the body, over time, towards metabolic syndrome and a variety of related health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Key Differences Between Metabolic Syndrome and Adrenal Fatigue
- High cortisol and aldosterone levels
- High sodium levels
- Low levels of potassium
- High blood sugar levels
- Fluid retention
- Abdominal fat
- High blood pressure
- Low cortisol and aldosterone levels
- Low sodium levels
- High levels of potassium
- Low blood sugar levels
- Mild dehydration
- Affects any body shape; possible undesired weight loss
- Low blood pressure
Tips to Avoid or Manage Metabolic Syndrome
- Eat meals consisting of whole natural foods as often as possible. Avoid meals that come from a box or can, and stay away from fast food. It is well worth your time to prepare your own meals. There is a joy to be had in cooking actual food, in addition to the great health benefits.
- Minimize foods high in carbohydrates.
- Eat foods low on the glycemic index (You can find a searchable glycemic index here).
- Eat foods high in omega 3 fatty acids (You can find a list of foods here).
- Try to incorporate lean protein (both plant- and animal-based) into every meal and snack.
- Avoid foods high in trans-fat, and those made with hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (processed foods).
- Eliminate caffeine (especially sugary coffee concoctions and energy drinks) and junk foods (Remember: garbage in, garbage out!).
- Eat small regular meals.
- Avoid foods that elevate insulin or blood sugar.
- Avoid overeating and eating when you’re not hungry (ie stress eating).
Exercising 30-40 minutes a day helps normalize cortisol, insulin and blood sugar, and can also reduce belly fat. Combine the following:
- Aerobic (vigorous walking, jogging, swimming,
- Anaerobic (weights, isotonic, Pilates)
- Flexibility (yoga, stretching, tai chi)
Having the right kind of supplemental support in addition to following the dietary, lifestyle and exercise guidelines described can significantly enhance your ability to handle stress and maintain metabolic balance. These supplements should:
- Promote balanced HPA axis function and blood sugar metabolism
- Replenish the nutrients used up by stress
- Support adrenal function
- Provide extra vitamin C and other antioxidants
- Supply fish oil high in Omega 3 fatty acids
About the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com
Dr. James Wilson, PhD, ND, DC. August 2009 NZ Seminar Series: “Adrenal Fatigue and Its Relationship with Metabolic Syndrome & Hypothyroidism”
National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III (NCEP-ATP-III);
World Health Organization (WHO);
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE);
European Society of Hypertension, European Society of Cardiology, International Society of Hypertension (ESH/ESC/ISH)
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SIMMONS, DAVID & THOMPSON, COLIN F. Prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome among Adult New Zealanders of Polynesian and European Descent. DIABETES CARE, VOLUME 27, NUMBER 12, DECEMBER 2004
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