Metabolic Syndrome (Part One)
Read more from Eric Bakker ND
Read Part Two here.
You will have most probably heard a lot about metabolic syndrome, or syndrome X. In 1988, a man called Gerald Reaven noted that several risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar are commonly cluster together in over weight individuals. This clustering he called Syndrome X, and he recognised it as a high risk factor for cardio vascular disease.
The most common symptoms of metabolic syndrome include high cortisol levels, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, fatigue, and a “spare tyre” of weight around the middle. Metabolic syndrome often causes a fairly rapid fat gain, especially around the tummy, and left unchecked, predisposes a person to diabetes and heart disease. Recent surveys estimate that 32% of Maori, 39% of Pacific People and 16 to 40+ % of New Zealanders of European descent suffer from the metabolic syndrome.
The BMI Index
A good way to determine whether you have a weight issue, leading to metabolic syndrome is to determine your BMI. The BMI is simply height over weight squared, and all you need is a cloth measuring tape and some scales. To determine the BMI first determine the person’s height in meters, the divide the weight (kg) over height (m2) which would give you the BMI. A BMI of more than 25 means you are overweight; A BMI of more than 30 would mean you are obese. If you are of Asian descent, you have a weight problem if your BMI is above 21. Many studies indicate that actual waist circumference may well be a better predictor of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular risk factor and death from heart disease than body-mass index (BMI) alone. And by using waist circumference along with the level of triglycerides in the blood may predict metabolic syndrome even to a higher degree. Some of the typical signs and symptoms of metabolic syndrome
- Fatigue, sleepiness almost immediately after a high carbohydrate meal. (hypoglycemia)
- High blood sugar and cortisol levels
- Hypertension (high blood-pressure)
- Dyslipidemia (high cholesterol)
- Pro-thrombotic state – more prone to having a stroke and heart disease.
- Microalbuminurea. A microalbumin urine test determines the presence of the albumin (protein) in the urine. In a properly functioning body, albumin is not normally present in urine because it is retained in the bloodstream by your kidneys.
- Inflammation (elevated CRP and/or ESR)
- Brain fogginess & inability to focus
- Visceral obesity, fat around the tummy, a “spare tyre”. Does your stomach precede you? Do you have an apple-shaped body type? and do you have your own personal spare tire? Insulin resistance is now well known to be associated with intra-abdominal fat as opposed to total fat distribution
- Intestinal bloating, flatulence, constipation and/or diarrhoea
- Depression independent of depressive events
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
I call this condition metabolic “sin”drome, and if left unchecked will progress. Metabolic syndrome is again one of those “diseases of modern civilisation” and not a condition that drops into your lap from nowhere, you create it with your own way of living, thinking and eating in particular. You guessed – refined carbohydrates, fizzy drinks, white bread, fatty take away, the good old Kiwi way of life. My concern is that there are many children in NZ who will end up developing metabolic syndrome because of their sedentary lifestyle. When I was a kid we used to walk everywhere. Many children today eat too much of the wrong foods and do too little; they get stressed out with those crazy fast paced computer games which help to stimulate their cortisol levels. Whatever happened to playing outside? Sedentary lifestyles create rising cortisol levels which lead to all sorts of internal problems, increasing fat deposition and creating insulin resistance. I found a study revealing that Australian kids are amongst the fattest in world. America may lead the world with adult obesity, but Australia leads the world in childhood obesity. I presume that the statistics of NZ and Australian children would be similar, and a quick drive around South Auckland and many other parts of this country will show you exactly what I mean. Here is the progression, and this is how metabolic syndrome slowly develops as the years roll by:
The Progression of Metabolic Syndrome
Insulin Resistance – develops in childhood
Cholesterol problems – between 15 – 35 years of age
High blood pressure – between 35 – 50 years of age
Impaired Fasting Glucose – between 40 – 55 years of age
Diabetes – 50 - 55 years of age
Cardiovascular disease – above 55 years
New NZ study reveals that stress affects your waistline
In my clinical experience, I believe that most Kiwis falsely blame their weight gain on junk foods, carbohydrates and a lack of exercise rather than their fatigued, stressed and hurried lifestyle. This is how the weight-loss clinics like to think too, and a whole industry has been built around diet foods and exercise to promote weight loss without addressing the real underlying issues. We need to focus on health and wellness and forget about hopping on scales and calorie reduction, and this means looking at the behaviours, eating habits and the stresses in our lives. It is very important to point out a recent two-year New Zealand study of 225 overweight or obese Kiwi women involving non-dieting but including relaxation techniques. According to Caroline Horwath, senior lecturer in the University of Otago’s Department of Human Nutrition, the study revealed that the women lost an average of 2.5 kilograms and suffered “very substantial reductions” in depression, back pain, stomach upsets, insomnia and bowel problems like diarrhoea or constipation. Dr. Horwath said that stress and negative emotions can trigger women to overeat and consume high fat and high sugar foods. The study included relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, abdominal breathing, and more effective tools to manage time, stress and negative emotions. Incredible, but the weight loss was achieved without focus on diet, which shows you that “diets don’t work”. In the past ten years I have seen an explosion of weight-loss clinics, “fat-burning” shakes and supplements and internet based products designed to help an overweight person shed their spare tyre. But nothing has changed for Kiwis; we are fat and becoming fatter. It is time we got back to basics – eating good nutritious food, home cooked meals which are full of the nutrition our bodies crave. We also need to take a “chill pill” and relax more.
Seminar recently held in NZ linking stress to weight problems
Dr. James L. Wilson, an American expert on stress recently presented a seminar series entitled “Adrenal Fatigue and Its Relationship with Metabolic Syndrome & Hypothyroidism” in August in NZ to over 300 health-care professionals. Adrenal fatigue and metabolic syndrome are two different faces of a patient’s underlying stress disorder, according to Dr. James Wilson: “Both metabolic syndrome and adrenal fatigue are in epidemic proportions in the US and in most industrialised nations, including New Zealand. These conditions can arise as stress mal-adaptations and are intimately related, yet are often slow to be recognised, if at all, by conventional medicine,” said Dr. Wilson. Recent figures ranking New Zealand as the third fattest nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) emphasise the need to understand why Kiwis are gaining so much weight. Stress tends to make people overeat to bolster their lagging energy levels and, Dr. Wilson explains, high cortisol levels caused by stress combined with high blood sugar and other related factors can lead to metabolic syndrome.
What many people don’t know is the link between depleted adrenal function (adrenal fatigue), hypothyroidism and metabolic syndrome. If the adrenal glands remain strong under stress, it leads to metabolic syndrome; if the adrenal glands become weak due to continued stress, it can lead to adrenal fatigue. Unlike metabolic syndrome, adrenal fatigue generally produces a person to having low cortisol levels, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, and fatigue that leaves people feeling chronically below par and “limping through life”. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often overeat because they try to drive themselves with salty or sweet foods.
In the next instalment we will look at the main presenting differences between adrenal fatigue and metabolic syndrome, and how metabolic syndrome can be reversed.
- National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III (NCEP-ATP-III);
- World Health Organization (WHO);
- American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE);
- European Society of Hypertension, European Society of Cardiology, International Society of Hypertension (ESH/ESC/ISH)
- (Houston, MC. The metabolic Syndrome. JANA 2005; 8(2) 3-83.)
- Gentles, Dudley et.al. Metabolic syndrome prevalence in a multicultural population in Auckland, New Zealand. Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 26-January-2007, Vol 120 No 1248
- SIMMONS, DAVID & THOMPSON, COLIN F. Prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome among Adult New Zealanders of Polynesian and European Descent. DIABETES CARE, VOLUME 27, NUMBER 12, DECEMBER 2004