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Metabolic Syndrome: Watch Your Waistline


According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome has become common in the United States. Approximately 20-25 percent of adult Americans are estimated to have it.1 This syndrome is associated with central obesity (fat in the abdominal area) and insulin resistance. Obesity contributes to high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, low HDL or “good” cholesterol and high blood sugar. Abdominal obesity especially correlates with metabolic risk factors.

Metabolic syndrome and its associated condition of insulin resistance pose a major threat to cardiovascular health. Remarkably, the public knows very little about this silent but deadly condition, and many affected individuals are not even aware that metabolic syndrome is inflicting severe damage to their arteries and brain cells.

The news media and health care providers pay almost no attention to the epidemic of insulin resistance, the fundamental cause of metabolic syndrome. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps control the amount of sugar in your bloodstream.

Normally, your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into sugar (glucose). Your blood carries the glucose to your body’s tissues, where the cells use it as fuel. Glucose enters your cells with the help of insulin. In people with insulin resistance, cells don’t respond normally to insulin, and glucose can’t enter the cells as easily. As a result, glucose levels in the blood rise despite the body’s attempt to control the glucose by churning out more and more insulin. The result is higher than normal levels of insulin in the blood. This can eventually lead to diabetes when the body is unable to make enough insulin to keep the blood glucose within the normal range.

Even if levels aren’t high enough to be considered diabetes, an elevated glucose level can still be harmful. In fact, some health care professionals refer to this condition as “prediabetes.” Increased insulin resistance raises triglyceride levels and other blood fat levels. It also interferes with how kidneys work, leading to higher blood pressure. These combined effects of insulin resistance are major risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.

Most health care professionals will look for the presence of three or more of the following components when diagnosing metabolic syndrome: 

Central or abdominal obesity (measured by waist circumference): 

Men—40 inches or above 

Women—35 inches or above 

Triglycerides: greater than or equal to 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) 

HDL cholesterol: 

Men—less than 40 mg/dL 

Women—less than 50 mg/dL 

Blood pressure: greater than or equal to 130/85 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) 

Fasting glucose: greater than or equal to 100 mg/dL3 

With heart disease the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States claiming approximately one million lives annually2, retailers can be a vital resource for people with metabolic syndrome. If your customers have metabolic syndrome or any of the components of metabolic syndrome, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems. And that starts with advising your customers on making healthful choices about the foods they eat.

Part of creating and living a healthy lifestyle is avoiding processed foods. Whole foods in their natural state are your healthiest choices. Whole foods with the simplest preparations are the next best thing. Processed foods should be all but eliminated from your diet, for a variety of very compelling reasons.

The more processing that a food goes through, the more additives and less nutrients it contains. Processing removes a great deal (if not all) of the vitamins, minerals and fiber in most foods. To make matters worse, processing then adds in unhealthy fats, a ton of sugar or sugar substitutes and synthetic vitamins and minerals.

Most of these ingredients, including artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup, are not even recognized as edible by your body. These non-food ingredients are considered toxins and most will end up languishing in your system, often stored with fat.

Avoiding processing foods in the fight against metabolic syndrome is easier said than done. Processed food is all around us. That said, smart supplementation can have a significant impact on metabolic health. A number of nutritional supplements that are widely found in health food stores hold great promise for normalizing blood sugar and metabolic control, including the following:

• Chromium: This nutrient is a critically essential cofactor for glucose control. Chromium helps insulin shuttle blood sugar (glucose) into cells. In fact, without chromium, insulin cannot work properly. Unfortunately, most Americans are deficient in this critical nutrient. Some experts believe that Americans ingest less than half the recommended daily amount of chromium.4 This may be partly due to the nation’s over-reliance on processed foods, which are generally rich in calories but lacking in nutrients. Several studies have evaluated the effect of chromium on glucose levels with varied results, but a significant number of these studies have shown that chromium can normalize blood sugar levels, improve blood sugar utilization and decrease insulin requirements in patients with glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.

• Fish Oil: The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish oil for years. Studies have shown that the omega-3s found in fish oil helps preventand fight heart disease, as well as cancer, depression arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, ulcers, diabetes, hyperactivity and other conditions. Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods. However, the most beneficial form of omega-3s, containing two fatty acids— EPA and DHA—can be found only in fish. EPA and DHA have a multitude of metabolic health benefits, including increased fat burning and improved glucose metabolism.5 In addition, EPA and DHA decrease the expression of genes involved in fat storage,6 down-regulate genes involved in inflammation,7 and lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.8 Be aware to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.

• Magnesium: Large studies have linked a magnesium deficiency to high blood pressure, while other studies have shown an association between magnesium supplements and a decreased risk of death from heart disease. A higher intake of magnesium may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. 

• Silymarin: An antioxidant extract from the herb milk thistle, silymarin can improve liver function along with blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as impact other signs of diabetes.

Because metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors, many of which must be determined with lab work, this condition is not one that an individual can assess without the help of a health care professional. Many of these health care professionals provide nutritional counseling in your local health food store. That said, if you have a large waist circumference, and also have elevated triglycerides, high blood sugar or high blood pressure, it would be wise to discuss your combined risks with your health care professional as soon as possible.


1, 3 www.heart.org 

2 www.theheartfoundation.org 

4 Anderson RA. Essentiality of chromium in humans. Sci Total Environ. 1989 Oct 1;86(1-2):75-81.

5 Ferre P. The biology of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors: relationship with lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Diabetes. 2004 Feb;53 Suppl 1S43-S50.

6 Delarue J, LeFoll C, Corporeau C, Lucas D. N-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: a nutritional tool to prevent insulin resistance associated to type 2 diabetes and obesity? Reprod Nutr Dev. 2004 May;44(3):289-99.

7 Li H, Ruan XZ, Powis SH, et al. EPA and DHA reduce LPS-induced inflammation responses in HK-2 cells: evidence for a PPAR-gamma-dependent mechanism. Kidney Int. 2005 Mar;67(3):867-74.

8 Madsen T, Skou HA, Hansen VE, et al. C-reactive protein, dietary n-3 fatty acids, and the extent of coronary artery disease. Am J Cardiol. 2001 Nov 15;88(10):1139-42.

Mark Becker is an account manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. Becker has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor’s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 102 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook at Facebook.com/marklbecker and on twitter at Twitter.com/becker_mark. For more information, access www.vivioninc.com or www.EnergyatLast.com.

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