Rising 'Metabolic Syndrome' Now Affects 35% of Americans

Metabolic syndrome, which encompasses a group of risk factors — such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, undesirable cholesterol levels, and a large waist size — is more common in the United States than previously thought, new research has found.

More than one-third (35 percent) of U.S. adults have a combination of health issues that comprise metabolic syndrome, significantly increasing their risk of heart disease and diabetes. As recent as two years ago, medical researchers thought that the ratio of Americans with metabolic syndrome was closer to 30 percent.

The new research has also found that the rate of metabolic syndrome increases significantly with age. Almost half of people 60 or older in the United States have metabolic syndrome, the study found.

Additionally, Hispanic adults have the highest rate of metabolic syndrome (39 percent) of all ethnic groups, researchers say.

“That’s concerning, because we know the population of the U.S. is aging,” senior study author Dr. Robert Wong, an assistant clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco, told HealthDay. “I think it will potentially place a huge burden on our health care system.”

Metabolic syndrome is a convergence of conditions that include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, increased levels of blood sugar, and a wider waist circumference. The condition has been fueled in recent years by a lack of physical activity among Americans and the obesity epidemic.

Insulin Resistance Is Key
A key element of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance, a condition that can be present before metabolic syndrome is diagnosed. Insulin resistance means that your body’s ability to effectively use insulin — a life-sustaining hormone — has been impaired.

A low-carbohydrate diet has been found to be effective in helping some people with metabolic syndrome, especially overweight or obese individuals. Some carbohydrates increase the blood glucose level more rapidly and require the secretion of more insulin to control blood sugar levels.

“Patients need to know that metabolic syndrome is serious,” said Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., medical director of clinical cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute and a certified lipidologist. “Metabolic syndrome is directly linked to increased inflammatory state in our body and, specifically, our blood vessels. It is directly linked to carbohydrate intake.”

In the new study, researchers concluded that 35 percent of all U.S. adults had metabolic syndrome in 2011-2012. About 47 percent of people 60 or older have the condition. Only about 18 percent of adults 20 to 39 years old have metabolic syndrome. Among those over 60, more than 50 percent of women and Hispanics have metabolic syndrome, according to the study. The study’s findings are in the May 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a person who has metabolic syndrome is not only twice as likely to develop heart disease, but also five times as likely to develop diabetes, compared to someone who doesn’t have metabolic syndrome.

Treating Metabolic Syndrome
You can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes by controlling risk factors. The best way is by losing weight and increasing physical activity. Here are some tips for managing metabolic syndrome:

• Routinely monitor body weight (especially central obesity, or fat concentrated in the abdomen). Also monitor blood glucose, lipoproteins and blood pressure.

• Treat each risk factor, such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose, according to established guidelines and the advice of your physician.

• Carefully choose high blood pressure drugs or other medications because different drugs have different effects on insulin sensitivity.

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