Metabolic syndrome: why not to underestimate it
When we talk about metabolic syndrome we mean a clinical condition that affects almost half of the adult population over the age of 50-60. The incidence of metabolic syndrome is alarming and may increase in the coming years.
What is metabolic syndrome
The metabolic syndrome does not indicate a single disease, but a set of predisposing factors that, if they occur simultaneously, put the patient at increased risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke, and hepatic steatosis (fatty liver).
Metabolic syndrome is usually diagnosed if at least 3 of these conditions are concomitant:
– Waist circumference (cm): ≥ 102 for men, ≥ 88 for women
– Fasting blood glucose (mg/dL): ≥ 100
– Blood pressure (mmHg): ≥ 130/85
– Triglycerides, fasting (mg/dL): ≥ 150
– HDL cholesterol (mg/dL) < 40 for men, < 50 for women
What are the causes of metabolic syndrome?
The main risk factors for metabolic syndrome are overweight and obesity, two conditions that are associated with incorrect lifestyles, including insufficient physical activity, an unbalanced diet and alcohol and/or drug abuse.
Excess body fat in the abdominal region can lead to altered fat and sugar metabolism and the activation of chronic inflammation, which in turn can lead to insulin resistance or hyperinsulinemia.
The risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease
When insulin resistance develops, in order to be able to absorb glucose and maintain normal blood levels, the cells require more insulin than normal (hyperinsulinemia).
The Beta cells of the pancreas, whose job it is to produce insulin, then initiate a process of degradation, caused by overwork and, in this way, predispose to the development of diabetes.
Adipose tissue, in fact, is a tissue that is active in the regulatory mechanisms of physiological and pathological processes, such as inflammation.
If visceral fat increases, it awakens inflammation that causes atherosclerosis in the blood vessels, setting the stage for the development of cardiovascular disease.
How can metabolic syndrome be prevented?
The best therapy for combating metabolic syndrome is prevention, which is based on:
- a healthy lifestyle, in which the patient does not smoke and does not abuse alcoholic or carbonated drinks;
- maintaining a healthy weight
- regular physical activity;
- a balanced diet.
As far as the eating day is concerned, this can be divided into three main meals and two snacks, one mid-morning and the other mid-afternoon.
This subdivision makes it possible to contain the glycaemic peaks caused by the intake of simple carbohydrates, which are the basis of the secretion of insulin by the pancreas, which in turn is responsible for the production of growth factors for the inflammatory state.
Regular physical activity is particularly important in combating the metabolic syndrome, as it improves all the alterations inherent in the disorder, in that it
- it increases calorie expenditure
- by promoting the use of glucose from the muscles, it facilitates the action of insulin with a consequent reduction in glycaemia;
- reduces triglycerides and increases HDL cholesterol;
- it lowers blood pressure.
The physical activity of a healthy person should include aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, elliptical, exercise bike or dancing) for about 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week.
To limit sedentariness in daily life and maintain a healthy weight, you can make a number of small changes to your behaviour, such as using the stairs instead of the lift, walking or cycling instead of driving, if you are driving park a little further away from your destination so that you can walk a short distance, and avoid sitting for too long.
When should a specialist be consulted?
Normally you should follow a first-line approach, i.e. have regular check-ups with your general practitioner, in order to monitor your general health and get feedback on how well you manage your physical activity and diet.
It is important to periodically check one’s weight, waist circumference and blood pressure and to perform targeted blood tests (blood glucose, total cholesterol, HDL, triglycerides).
If, however, the patient does not achieve the desired results, it becomes necessary to consult one or more specialists, depending on the problem (e.g. a diabetologist if blood sugar rises, a dietician and/or nutritionist to control weight and a cardiologist if blood pressure rises).