Okay…so it’s not the movie X Men, but it is significant health-wise.
It goes by many names including Syndrome X, but metabolic syndrome affects 50 to 75 million Americans and 30 percent of people in industrialized countries. You see? Syndrome X really is creating X men . . . and X women . . .as well as X children. It’s not good, either. Here’s why:
Metabolic, by definition, is associated with “the sum of the physical and chemical processes of an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained, and destroyed—and by which energy is made available.” A syndrome, by definition, is “a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder.” Metabolic syndrome, then, can be loosely defined as a group of symptoms together that are characteristic of a disorder of physical and chemical processes of an organism. And, I might add that it’s not a positive one.
You may or may not have heard of metabolic syndrome, but it is definitely not new to the health scene. It was first described in the 1920s—with the markers of hypertension, hyperglycemia and gout. In the 1940s, Jean Vague linked abdominal obesity to abnormal metabolic function. In the 1970s Gerald Phillips asserted that obesity, aging and sex hormone-associated markers were associated with heart disease. In 1988, Dr. Gerald Reaven suggested that insulin resistance, not obesity, was the critical factor in the metabolic syndrome cluster which he termed Syndrome X—and some still believe insulin resistance may be the cause of metabolic syndrome, although this is not conclusive.
More specifically, metabolic syndrome is now generally defined as a cluster of risk factors that can pave the way to diabetes (presently affecting at least 18 million Americans), heart disease (presently affecting at least 16 million Americans) or stroke (presently affecting at least 6 million Americans).
What’s interesting and unnerving about metabolic syndrome is that many people may not be aware they have it or what the implications of having it are. Simply put, metabolic syndrome significantly increases a person’s chances for coronary heart disease, stroke or diabetes. One expert says, “The presence of the metabolic syndrome increases the risk for coronary heart disease or strokes by two-fold [and five-fold for diabetes] as compared to its absence.”
But what are those clustered risk factors? The primary risk factors for the condition include central obesity (around and in the abdomen), high blood pressure, glucose intolerance and blood-fat disorders that promote plaque buildup in the artery walls. Specific factors include elevated blood fat levels (triglycerides) and low levels of HDL (good cholesterol); resistance to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar; as well as a prothrombotic state (elevated blood-clotting which may block arteries or veins) and a proinflammatory state (specifically higher blood levels of C-reactive protein, which has been linked to heart disease).
Speaking of a proinflammatory state, inflammation is being closely examined to determine whether it is only associated with metabolic syndrome or might be a triggering factor in it. For example, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, insulin resistance, too much adipose tissue (fat) and aging can all result in persistent low-grade inflammation. In short, scientists see a strong, if not causative, connection between inflammation and metabolic syndrome. This is an ongoing area of research, but it’s another reason to keep inflammation under control.
Having one of these indicators does not mean that you have metabolic syndrome, but it contributes to the metabolic syndrome risk—and some have only one known indicator, but don’t realize they have the others. Having two risk factors increases the possibility of having metabolic syndrome. And, according to some definitions, having three indicators can put you in the “metabolic syndrome” club. And that’s not a healthy club to belong to.
Stay tuned for more on these X Men. We’ll look further into the risk factors for metabolic syndrome as well as steps you can take to lower your risk to not become an X Man . . .or X Woman . . .or X Child.