Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together and increase an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is increasingly common, and as many as one-third of U.S. adults have it.
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of five conditions that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes when these conditions occur together:
- High blood glucose
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood
- High triglyceride levels
- Large waist circumference, or “apple-shaped” body
- High blood pressure
To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, an individual must have at least three of these conditions. And once diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, the chance of developing a serious cardiovascular disease increases considerably. For example, high blood pressure in and of itself is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but when combined with high blood sugar or a larger waistline, the chance for cardiovascular disease is even higher.
There are a number of risk factors that increase the chances of developing metabolic syndrome. They include:
- Age – The risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases with age
- Ethnicity – In the U.S., research indicates that Hispanics appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome
- Obesity – Carrying too much weight, especially around the abdomen, increases risk
- Diabetes – One is more likely to have metabolic syndrome if they have diabetes during pregnancy, or have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Other diseases – such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and sleep apnea
Prevention of metabolic disease starts with a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, including these actions:
- Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day
- Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins
- Limiting saturated fat and salt in your diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
Managing Metabolic Syndrome
Just as the name suggests, managing weight is the most important aspect of managing metabolic syndrome. When someone is overweight or obese, their chances for developing other conditions within metabolic syndrome significantly increase. After diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, the treatment involves managing and treating the individual conditions. For example, if one has high blood pressure, then taking medications prescribed by a doctor can help manage that condition.
However, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help improve every condition within metabolic syndrome because each one is linked to diet and activity. By incorporating activity and a healthy diet, one is addressing not just one of the conditions in metabolic syndrome, but all of them.
The Bottom Line
Metabolic syndrome involves many conditions. While each condition comes with its own set of issues, each condition can be improved or managed by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. By managing weight, one can reduce risk of metabolic syndrome, or help reduce the severity of its effects if they already have it.
- About metabolic syndrome. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome/about-metabolic-syndrome. Accessed November 28, 2022.
- Lear SA, et al. Ethnicity and metabolic syndrome: Implications for assessment, management, and prevention. Nutrients. 2020; doi:10.3390/nu12010015
- Metabolic syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome. Accessed November 28, 2022.