What is Metabolic Syndrome?
While metabolic syndrome is a disorder that is defined by a group of conditions, we believe it’s mainly tied to excess body fat. In some cases, individuals who are at a healthy weight can still have metabolic syndrome. But there are five specific factors that can put you at risk:
- Having a large waistline (more than 35-inch circumference for women and more than 40 for men)
- Low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- High triglyceride levels
- High levels of blood sugar
- High blood pressure
Even though you may not “feel” any symptoms, an additional risk factor to keep in mind is your body shape. Where you “wear” your fat matters: if you look more like an apple than a pear, your risk of developing metabolic syndrome is greater.
Carrying weight around your middle is an indication of excess visceral fat, a key risk factor for the development of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers.
The good news is that metabolic syndrome can be reversed even if you have a genetic predisposition or close relatives who have had diabetes or heart disease. Since your risk for metabolic syndrome increases with age, it is critical to understand how your lifestyle habits impact your risk as early as possible. We also recommend proper testing to see where your inflammatory markers stand.
The Conventional Approach To Metabolic Syndrome
The conventional approach to addressing metabolic syndrome is typically “lose weight and exercise” which is cookie-cutter advice that most people just ignore or do incorrectly. Sadly, most conventional doctors have received little to no training in nutrition and fitness – which means they are ill-equipped at guiding you on a plan that will lead to sustainable change and decrease your risk.
Unfortunately, the conventional approach does little to help you deal with gut health issues and inflammation, which also play a key role in metabolic syndrome.
What about a DIY approach? Sadly, most of the “healthy” eating information circulating on the internet isn’t correct and can actually worsen your risk for metabolic syndrome.
First, most of these plans are high in hidden sugars and carbohydrates, include foods that are inflammatory in other ways, and may not be right for your unique nutritional needs or biological make-up.
This is why you see people losing weight on diet plans that don’t work for you. If you already have some of the risk factors or have metabolic syndrome, losing weight can also be incredibly challenging for reasons I cover in the weight loss section on this page.
The Functional Approach to Metabolic Syndrome
Functional medicine is “whole body” medicine – meaning that we treat the entire body and teach our patients the correct way to achieve balance through lifestyle, nutrition and targeted medical supplementation.
This is why functional medicine really shines when it comes to treating chronic illnesses and disorders like metabolic syndrome, which need attention in many systems in your body – from hormones, to sleep, to digestive health. One of the reasons we are so successful at treating metabolic syndrome is that we also deal with deeper issues that keep your metabolism from functioning properly.
This includes dealing with general inflammation which is typically high in patients with metabolic syndrome. When the body is very inflamed, your hormonal balance (insulin, cortisol, thyroid etc) is oftentimes off as well – impacting your ability to lose weight. People with chronic inflammation have high levels of stress hormones like cortisol that don’t “shut off” and can cause intense fat and sugar cravings that keep them in the vicious cycle of steady weight gain. Your gut health (also called your microbiome) also plays a significant role. Many people have gut issues due to poor dietary choices, medications (especially antibiotics) and stress that can cause dysbiosis and put their immune system in high alert, throwing their entire bodies off.
Weight loss can be important part of healing metabolic syndrome. But it also has to be done the correct way, with an anti-inflammatory food plan that helps to balance your hormones and gut health.
Many people don’t realize that even a modest 5% reduction of their body weight positively impacts blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol/triglycerides. That being said, most people who already have metabolic syndrome have an incredibly hard time losing weight due to their their insulin issues and other challenges that they are unaware of. This is why it is so important to work with a functional medicine practitioner who can create the right food and supplement plan that can also correct nutritional deficiencies while rebalancing the gut.