There is a medical condition that doubles the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It’s called “Metabolic Syndrome” and most people affected with it don’t know they have it.
The Metabolic Syndrome is a group of risk factors that can potentially contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and blood vessels), type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and stroke.
The Metabolic Syndrome is associated with increasing age, lack of physical exercise, smoking and a diet that is high in fats and sugars. To a degree, genetic factors may also determine whether an individual is at risk of developing the metabolic syndrome.
The components of the Metabolic Syndrome include:
- Abdominal obesity (carrying too much weight around the waist area);
- Hypertension (high blood pressure);
- Low HDL cholesterol levels in the blood (HDL is the so-called “good” cholesterol);
- High LDL cholesterol levels in the blood (LDL is the so-called “bad” cholesterol);
- High blood levels of triglycerides (fats);
- Insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance or type 2 diabetes. (Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. When the body develops insulin resistance, it becomes less capable of lowering the blood sugar level after meals. If insulin resistance is not reversed or treated, diabetes mellitus may develop); and
- Microalbuminuria (protein in the urine).
People with three or more of the above symptoms can be considered to have the Metabolic Syndrome, greatly increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease and/or type 2 diabetes, two of the most pervasive diseases in Western populations.
More than half of all Australians have at least one of the Metabolic Syndrome conditions. Suggestions for reducing your risk include:
- Incorporate as many lifestyle changes as you can – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and losing weight will dramatically reduce your risk of diseases associated with metabolic syndrome such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Make dietary changes – eat plenty of natural wholegrain foods, vegetables and fruit. To help with weight loss, reduce the amount of food you eat and limit foods high in fat or sugar. Reduce saturated fats such as meat, full cream dairy and many processed foods – this will help improve your cholesterol levels. Reducing alcohol consumption to less than two standard drinks a day may help to lower triglyceride levels.
- Increase your physical activity level – regular exercise raises the level of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol in your blood, which helps remove excess cholesterol from your body and protect against heart disease. Exercised muscle cells are also more sensitive to insulin.
- Manage your weight – increasing physical activity and improving eating habits will help you lose excess body fat. As a result, your blood pressure may drop and your cells will be more sensitive to insulin.
- Quit smoking – smoking increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and lung disease. Quitting will have many health benefits, especially if you have metabolic syndrome.
- Medication may be required – lifestyle changes are extremely important in the management of the Metabolic Syndrome but sometimes medication may be necessary to manage the different conditions. Some people will need to take antihypertensive tablets to control high blood pressure and/or lipid lowering medications to keep cholesterol within the recommended limits. The most important thing is to reduce your risk of heart attack, diabetes and stroke.