Why We All Need To Care About Metabolic Syndrome

February 11, 2020 | Healthspan

By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.

President, Sideline Sports Doc

Medical Director, Apeiron Life

Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

February 11, 2020

Key Points:

  • Metabolic syndrome is a combination of elevated blood glucose, high body fat, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides
  • People with metabolic syndrome are at increased risk for serious heart disease and stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome also increases risk for arthritis, joint pain, and body ache
  • Through proper nutrition and exercise many of the effects of metabolic syndrome can be improved or possibly reversed

I wrote in last week’s post about five important risk calculators that if applied together will give a person an excellent picture of their overall health status. In today’s post I want to go into more detail about the metabolic syndrome, its effects on the body as a whole and how it is linked to joint pain and osteoarthritis.

It appears to also heavily influence the common generalized body ache that many people feel. Metabolic syndrome is one of the conditions that is a precursor to many problems, and will have a negative effect on sports health, joint health, and physical performance.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome? 

Metabolic syndrome is a condition in which five inputs are combined to create unhealthy conditions in the body resulting in high abdominal fat, generalized inflammation, and increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and possibly even certain cancers.

People with metabolic syndrome will have a combination of elevated fasting blood glucose, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, and a large waist circumference. Entering these numbers into a metabolic syndrome calculator will give a person an estimation of their risk for developing serious conditions such as heart disease or stroke.

The exact circumstances that cause metabolic syndrome are still being investigated, but it is believed that nutritional factors such as intake of processed sugars, and physical factors such as a sedentary lifestyle are strong contributors.

The number of people with metabolic syndrome is unfortunately on the rise worldwide. The CDC estimates that at least 30% of US adults have metabolic syndrome. Sadly, the rate of newly diagnosed cases of metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes is rising at about 2% to 3% per year in adolescents and teenagers.

Disease Risks With Metabolic Syndrome

 The real problem with metabolic syndrome is that it is strongly linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. There is emerging evidence – although not quite as strong – that metabolic syndrome is also associated with increased risks of dementia and certain types of cancers.

Metabolic Syndrome And Joint Health

 From an orthopedic and joint health standpoint the negative effects from metabolic syndrome appear to arise from two areas. First, metabolic syndrome creates inflammation throughout the body that can independently increase joint pain. Anecdotally, most of my patients with metabolic syndrome also describe generalized body aches. I suspect that is also due to the generalized inflammation, although it has never been proven.

Second, metabolic syndrome leads to the unhealthy accumulation of body fat, which also creates excess weight in a person’s body. If you are a person who already has some amount of arthritis in your low back, hips, or knees, excess weight will definitely increase the amount of pain that you are experiencing in your affected joint.

Good News: Lifestyle And Diet Changes Can Substantially Improve Effects Of Metabolic Syndrome

 The good news is that if you become aware through the use of the calculator and consultation with your physician that you are at risk for metabolic syndrome, you can take steps proven to decrease that risk.

Emerging evidence shows that there is a profound effect from dietary choices on metabolic risk. There is universal belief that all processed sugars must be eliminated from the diet. Many health practitioners go further and also recommend elimination of all grains, and even many types of fruits. I would like to note carefully that many of these recommendations are still very controversial. I like Dr. Mark Hyman’s practical approach. You should consult with your physician and consider working with a registered dietitian for personalized advice.

Additionally, I’d recommend that everyone put resistance training into your weekly exercise plan. Resistance training is proven to improve blood glucose utilization, which will reduce your fasting blood glucose and reduce your waist circumference.

With these changes, each of the five inputs in the metabolic risk calculator can improve. Metabolic syndrome is not a permanent condition if you take action. There’s strong evidence that the effects can be substantially improved or even reversed. Take steps now and you’ll definitely feel better for life.

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