Frank is in his late fifties, and was a little overweight. Mostly, he carried his excess weight around his midline, making his waist much bigger than his hips. As a child he had a sweet tooth and ate a lot of candy. For most of his life he ate pre-sweetened cold cereal, mostly two or three times per day. He liked soft-drinks, downing as many as six in one day.
Frank came to the office with a classic case of metabolic syndrome.
- His body isn’t able to burn fat.
- He has low testosterone and high estrogen levels.
- He is pre-diabetic.
- He has hypertension and elevated triglycerides.
- He can’t see his belt when it’s on.
- He came to see me because he has had chest pain and difficulty breathing. Since he has young children, he got worried about a heart attack or stroke so he came looking for help.
Let’s follow Frank through the process of recovery from this problem.
In the 1980s, a new term was coined for an old problem. Those with a collection of symptoms and struggled with metabolism were put in a special group. They suffered from metabolic syndrome. The syndrome affects how people make energy because of high blood sugar, central obesity, hypertension (i.e, high blood pressure), and high triglycerides.
This syndrome is a specific collection of symptoms that occur together. Not everyone with diabetes has hypertension, for example. Nor do most people with hypertension also have the other symptoms like obesity. The definition of metabolic syndrome requires three of the following five symptoms:
It’s important to note that a syndrome is not a disease, but rather just a group of symptoms. It has had other names over time, including:
- Dysmetabolic syndrome
- Hypertriglyceridemic waist
- Insulin resistance syndrome
- Obesity syndrome
- Syndrome X
- Fatty liver disease
- Heart disease
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Excessive clotting
How Does Metabolic Syndrome Happen?
One of the most amazing facts about our bodies is the ability to adapt. We have whole civilizations living on mostly fat and protein. Other civilizations have almost no protein, yet both groups of people adapt to their nutrition. There are, however, limits to adaptation. Some people cannot adapt to certain dietary habits that others tolerate. This is part of the difference in genetics.
Our genes don’t determine our destiny, but they do play an important role in determining how we respond to our environment.
Today’s environmental factors interact with our genetic predisposition to store energy as body fat. The culprits of metabolic syndrome are:
- Large portion sizes
- Commercially prepared foods high in salt, simple sugars, and saturated fats.
- And the multiple factors that promote sedentary lifestyles, including:
- The wide variety of home entertainment options
- Work-place automation
- And reliance on automobiles
In our case above, Frank had gained the weight in his abdomen over many years of eating processed foods. He didn’t have fat on his arms, legs, chest, or neck – only around the waist. He may have had a genetic weakness to release more insulin than usual. But, his over-the-belt belly could also be a result of eating sugar, starch, and processed foods over the years.
The key feature, or the root of the metabolic syndrome, is insulin.
- Lowers the HDL
- Raises the triglycerides
- Raises the blood pressure
- Causes fat to be deposited in the abdomen
- Causes type 2 diabetes, with elevated blood sugar
How Do We Treat Metabolic Syndrome?
Medical school teaches doctors to treat each part of the syndrome with a separate set of medications. I have had metabolic syndrome patients on two medications for cholesterol, three for hypertension, and two for diabetes – and they still weren’t healthy. So, they come to see me. Practicing medicine has taught me that most medications are not appropriate for this syndrome. They only mask the symptoms, as the underlying problem gets worse.
Now that we know that insulin is the root cause of all the symptoms, it’s crucial we treat it naturally. The cornerstones of metabolic syndrome treatment include these 3 steps.
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