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Article written by Sara Colman B.H. RDN, CDE

What do excess body weight, high blood pressure, high glucose and cholesterol levels and low HDL (good) cholesterol levels have in common? Individually each is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, combined these conditions mean increased risk of more serious health problems. Why? The condition, called metabolic syndrome, increases the chance a person will develop diabetes, heart disease or stroke. Metabolic syndrome is also known as syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome. It is estimated that more than one third of American adults have it.

According to the National Institute of Health a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome includes at least 3 out of 5
of the following conditions…
  • Fasting blood glucose (sugar) 100 mg/dL or more (or on medication for treatment)
  • Elevated blood pressure 130/85 mm Hg or higher (or on medication for treatment)
  • Apple shape with a waist circumference more than 40 inches for men, 35 inches for women
  • High triglycerides 150 mg/dL or more (or on medication for treatment)
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol, men less than 40 mg/dL, women less than 50 mg/dL (or on medication for
  • treatment)

Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

The causes of metabolic syndrome include being overweight and obese, physical inactivity and genetics. Insulin resistance is associated with the condition. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body does not use insulin properly, causing higher than normal glucose and triglyceride levels. The progression is thought to occur as follows…

  • Increased weight → insulin resistance → higher glucose → diabetes
  • High triglycerides, high cholesterol and high blood pressure → plaque build-up and stress in arteries → heart attack or stroke

As you can see, the end result is increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.


The recommended treatment for metabolic syndrome is weight loss, increased physical activity, a healthy diet, and if needed, medications. As little as 5 to 10% loss of body weight can improve the condition. Diet changes to improve metabolic syndrome include the following…

  • Decrease calorie intake for weight loss
  • Limit carbohydrate ratio to 50% or less
  • Increase fiber and antioxidant intake by including whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Reduce intake of red meats and processed meat products
  • Eat healthy fats such as olive oil, flaxseed oil nuts and seeds; avoid unhealthy fats

Physical activity to improve metabolic syndrome includes a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise. At least 30 minutes daily aerobic exercise is recommended. Even without weight loss, exercise helps improve blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels. The Balanced HabitsTM program is a perfect fit for meeting these treatment goals.

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