May 2, 2021

Metabolic Syndrome & Nutrition

Here at Nutriving, we are passionate about helping our clients prevent, slow progression and reverse chronic disease. When we say chronic disease, we are talking about medical conditions that can develop over time in part due to lifestyle factors, such as what we are eating and how much we move and care for our bodies. One of these chronic diseases is Metabolic Syndrome. Today we are zooming in to learn a bit more about what metabolic syndrome is and how nutrition plays in a role in prevention and management.

 

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that increases the likelihood that a person will develop other medical conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Those risk factors include:

  • High triglycerides

  • Low HDL cholesterol

  • Hypertension aka high blood pressure

  • High fasting blood glucose aka blood sugar

  • High waist circumference

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) considers a person to have metabolic syndrome when they have 3 or more of the above risk factors. The prevalence of metabolic syndrome has increased significantly over the past few decades. According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in US adults during the time period of 2007-2012 was 34.2%. That’s 1 in 3 adults! 

Blood pressure is a component of metabolic syndrome

What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?

To the naked eye, there are no true symptoms aside perhaps from gaining weight and increased waist circumference. If you have high blood sugar, you may notice some symptoms associated with that such as increased thirst, urination, fatigue, or blurry vision. 

The symptoms so to speak are seen if and when you go to the doctor to get blood drawn and labs performed. That is how you know if you have high triglycerides, low HDL, high blood pressure, etc. This is one of the many reasons that regular physician visits are so key in preventing disease. Of course, this is tragically a privilege in many countries. If you are able to see a doctor regularly, we highly encourage you to do so. 

What causes metabolic syndrome? Is metabolic syndrome genetic?

Risk for metabolic syndrome increases with age, physical inactivity, smoking, other conditions like sleep apnea or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. As with many things in life, there are some factors that are within our control and some that are not. For example, our genetics can also influence our risk of developing metabolic syndrome. A family history of type 2 diabetes or a personal history of gestational diabetes increases risk for developing metabolic syndrome. Obviously, we cannot control things like age or genetics.

What we can control, however, are factors related to nutrition, physical activity and how we handle stress.

 

Is there a “metabolic syndrome diet”?

You know we are anti-diet here at Nutriving. So, no we do not have clients follow a specific diet or a meal plan. However, there are certainly aspects of nutrition that we can target to make small, sustainable changes that translate to improvements in how you feel, and also to improvements in some of the metabolic syndrome risk factors.

  • Choosing more nutrient-dense carbohydrates like more whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables and fruits. Nutrient-dense carbohydrates give us more bang for our nutritional buck in the form of more fiber, more protein, and more micronutrients our bodies need.
  • Increasing fiber in the form of more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is key for so many reasons. Fiber helps us feel full and satisfied after eating, and it also helps slow the absorption of glucose (i.e., sugar) from our foods. This translates to more stable blood sugar trends, reduced HgbA1c, and a lower fasting blood glucose. Indeed, research consistently shows an inverse relationship between fiber intake and many of the components of metabolic syndrome as well as related conditions. Specifically, higher fiber intake is associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower waist circumference.
  • Being mindful of sodium can help with blood pressure control. Why? Sodium and water are attracted to each other. When we consume a lot of sodium in our diet, our bodies tend to hold on to more water to “dilute” the sodium so to speak. This can result in higher blood volume, which then increases the pressure on the artery walls and thus increases blood pressure. Some individuals are more salt-sensitive, others less so. Research shows that older adults, adults with higher baseline blood pressure, and non-white adults are generally more salt-sensitive, meaning reductions in salt intake can lead to more significant improvements in blood pressure.
  • Being mindful of saturated and trans fats as this can have beneficial effects on several of the metabolic syndrome risk factors. This is also good practice in increasing variety in the foods we eat. If all of our fats are saturated fats (i.e., lots of animal products, fried foods), then we are missing out on the unsaturated fats we can get from plant sources and seafood. In case you need a refresher, we did a deep dive on fats you can read here.
  • Being mindful of overdoing it on the sugar and/or alcohol. We firmly believe in treating yo’self. Team dark chocolate & red wine over here! That being said, there has to be a balance. If we overdo it consistently and repeatedly, this can have health effects in terms of blood sugar, triglyceride and HDL levels, but also energy level, how we manage cravings and just generally how we feel about ourselves. We help clients find that balance so treats can be enjoyed guilt-free and integrated into an overall nutritious and delicious meal pattern.

 

Can you reverse metabolic syndrome?

Yes! It is very possible to make improvements in nutrition, physical activity and stress management in such a way that a person may go from having 3, 4 or 5 of the above risk factors to having 0, 1 or 2! In these cases, you might hear this referred to as metabolic syndrome reversal or metabolic syndrome remission.

There is a BIG difference between knowing what is good for us and actually carrying it out consistently in our daily lives. Understanding the information we went through today is a key first step in improving your health, but often times we need a bit more guidance to actually make this happen in real life or IRL as the kids say.

Enter: Nutriving! That is what we are here for. That is what we are passionate about.

 

 

Sources:

Chen JP, Chen GC, Wang XP, Qin L, Bai Y. Dietary fiber and Metabolic Syndrome: A meta-analysis and review of related mechanisms. Nutrients. 2018;10(1):24. DOI: 10.3390/nu10010024

Huang L, Trieu K, Yoshimura S, Neal B, Woodward M, Campbell NRC, Li Q, Lackland DT, Leung AA, Anderson CAM, MacGregor GA, He FJ. Effect of dose and duration of reduction in dietary sodium on blood pressure levels: Systemic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ. 2020;368:m315. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.m315

Metabolic Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Metabolic Syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome. Accessed April 17, 2021.

Moore JX, Chaudhary N, Akinyemiju T. Metabolic Syndrome Prevalence by Race/Ethnicity and Sex in the United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–2012. Prev Chronic Dis 2017;14:160287. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd14.160287

Pérez-Martínez P, Mikhailidis DP, Athyros VG, Bullo M, Couture P, Covas MI, de Koning L, Delgado-Lista J, Díaz-López A, Drevon CA, Estruch R, Esposito K, Fitó M, Garaulet M, Giugliano D, García-Ríos A, Katsiki N, Kolovou G, Lamarche B, Maiorino MI, Mena-Sánchez G, Muñoz-Garach A, Nikolic D, Ordovás JM, Pérez-Jiménez F, Rizzo M, Salas-Salvadó J, Schröder H, Tinahones FJ, de la Torre R, van Ommen B, Wopereis S, Ros E, López-Miranda J. Lifestyle recommendations for the prevention and management of Metabolic Syndrome: An international panel recommendation. Nutrition Reviews. 2017;75(5):307-326. DOI: 10.1093/nutrit/nux014

The trouble with excess salt. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-trouble-with-excess salt#:~:text=Why%20does%20salt%20elevate%20blood,liquid%20through%20your%20blood%20vessels. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

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About the Author: Kelly Wagner, MS, RD, LDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian (RD) based in Chicago, IL. I have worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings, including dialysis, ICU, as well as one-on-one nutrition counseling and groups.
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