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What Is Metabolic Syndrome?


Metabolic (met-ah-BOL-ik) syndrome is the name for a cluster of risk factors that occur together.  The term “metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. Risk factors are traits, conditions or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease. 

In this case, if you have three or more of the five conditions listed below, you may have metabolic syndrome, a condition that puts you at increased risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke. In general, a person who has metabolic syndrome is twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes as someone who doesn't have metabolic syndrome. Other names for metabolic syndrome include Syndrome X, Obesity syndrome, and Insulin resistance syndrome.


 Metabolic Risk Factors

The five conditions described below are metabolic risk factors. If you have at least three metabolic risk factors, you may have Metabolic Syndrome:

    Five Risk Factors
An increased risk of Heart Disease
Abdominal obesity (a large waistline)

more than 40-inch waist
more than 35-inch waist

Triglycerides (mg/dL)

150 or higher

HDL cholesterol (mg/dL)

under 40
under 50

Blood pressure (mm Hg)
                Systolic BP  (upper number)
                Diastolic BP (lower number)

130 or higher
  85 or higher

Fasting blood sugar (mg/dL)
100 - 125


A note about the risk factors:

  • A large waistline:  Abdominal obesity (also called visceral fat or belly fat) is more dangerous than all-over body fat. Belly fat is more than stored energy, this fat produces hormones and other substances that can cause serious health problems such as low-level chronic inflammation which leads to insulin resistance, raised blood pressure levels, and an increased LDL-cholesterol level.

  • A high Triglyceride level (or you’re on medicine to treat high triglycerides), a type of fat found in the blood affected by consuming too much food, especially high levels of simple carbohydrate-containing foods.

  • A low HDL (good) cholesterol (or you’re on medicine to treat HDL cholesterol). HDLs remove cholesterol from your arteries and can be raised through physical activity.

  • A high blood pressure (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of our arteries as our heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage our hearts and lead to plaque buildup.

  • A high blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). When your fasting blood sugar is mildly high (as seen on the chart) this may be an early warning sign for diabetes but can still be prevented. Diabetes is defined at having a blood sugar of 126 mm/dL.


What's behind Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome is most often seen in people who are insulin-resistant. Insulin is a hormone that helps muscle, fat, and liver cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream, thus, lowering blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body produces insulin but does not use it effectively. When people have insulin resistance, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by our body cells. The pancreas responds by secreting enough insulin to overcome the resistance. People with metabolic syndrome are less able to move glucose or blood sugar into muscle and fat cells.


Four Lifestyle changes that have the most impact to delay or prevent metabolic syndrome

You are at risk of metabolic syndrome if you are obese and/or lack being physically active.  Lifestyle changes can prevent or delay metabolic syndrome.  

  • Reach and maintain a Healthy Weight. Studies show that losing 5 to 7 percent of our body weight can reduce insulin resistance and prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. This translates to a loss of 10 to 14 pounds for people who weigh 200 pounds.  

  • Increase Physical Activity. Many studies have shown that physical inactivity is associated with insulin resistance. In the body, more glucose is used by muscle than other tissues. Studies show that after exercising, muscles become more sensitive to insulin, reversing insulin resistance and lowering blood glucose levels. 

  • Eat a healthy diet, esp DASH eating plan. A heart healthy diet (controlled carb, fat and calorie, and no trans fats) includes eating daily 11 servings of vegetables & fruit; 4 servings of whole grains; 2 servings of low-fat dairy; 2 servings of legumes (beans) & nuts; 1 - 2 servings of fish, lean poultry, or lean meat; and a tablespoon of vegetable oil or spread.

  • Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep matters; studies show that untreated sleep problems can increase the risk of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.



© 2014 Linda Hachfeld, MPH, RDN
All Rights Reserved