Any guess at what disorder affects 40 percent of people over the age of 60? It’s called metabolic syndrome, which unfortunately does not simply mean that your metabolism is slow or out of whack. Metabolic syndrome is a metabolic disorder that involves not one, but a combination of three or more of the following health issues: abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
The term “metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. When you have metabolic syndrome, your body is in a state of serious malfunction. Metabolic syndrome increases your risk for some very concerning and possibly deadly health issues, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But there’s good news. There’s hope for getting your body metabolically back on track as well as keeping it on track throughout your entire life. Some of the best ways to avoid metabolic syndrome include maintaining a healthy weight, regularly exercising and eating a plant-centric diet while avoiding metabolism death foods.
In fact, a loss of just 3 percent to 5 percent of your current body weight can lower your triglycerides, blood glucose and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Greater amounts of weight loss can also improve blood pressure readings, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. (1) Thankfully, there’s a proven metabolic syndrome diet and natural treatment plan to get your metabolic function back in proper working order.
Metabolic Syndrome Diet
Foods that Make Metabolic Syndrome Worse
1. Fake and Processed Foods
Avoid fake and processed foods as much as possible. These frozen, bagged and boxed items are typically devoid of nutrients and loaded with unhealthy additives and preservatives that do nothing good for your health.
In fact, a 2015 study found that fast food consumption, some of the most unhealthy processed food on the planet, increases the incidence of metabolic syndrome in both children and adults. (2) In addition, researchers in Brazil found that high consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with metabolic syndrome in adolescents. (3)
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda have been directly linked with the occurrence of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of sugar substitutes containing aspartame, sucralose and saccharin may also be at an increased risk of excessive weight gain as well as development of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. (4)
3. Diet Sodas
Since diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners as well as other unhealthy ingredients, you don’t want to touch these lethal soft drinks. Studies show that the consumption of diet soda is associated with significantly greater risks of select incident metabolic syndrome components and type 2 diabetes. According to one 2009 study, daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36 percent greater risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent greater risk of having type 2 diabetes! (5)
4. Trans Fats (Trans Fatty Acids)
Trans fats are found in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats, such as margarine; baked goods like cookies, cakes and pies; crackers; frostings; and coffee creamers. They raise LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which is bad news for your waistline, heart health and metabolic disorders. (6)
5. Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar
Consumption of these two are major culprits when it comes to high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and the development of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Sugar, especially when used to sweeten beverages, is a major culprit, as are refined carbs. (7)
A recent study conducted in Korea, where metabolic syndrome incidence is high, looked at the effects of refined carbohydrates on this metabolic disorder. What the researchers found was that “the percentage of energy from carbohydrates in men and intake of refined grains, including white rice, in women were associated with metabolic syndrome.” (8)
Limit alcohol intake is key to metabolic syndrome and good health in general. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Alcohol also adds extra calories to your diet, which can cause weight gain. However, limited consumption of alcohol can actually be good for you, as a meta-analysis published in Clinical Nutrition found that while heavy alcohol consumption indeed increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, “very light alcohol consumption seemed to be associated with a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.” (9)
Men should have no more than two drinks containing alcohol a day, while women should have no more than one drink containing alcohol a day. One drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of liquor
Foods that Heal
When it comes to metabolic syndrome and encouraging good health in general, you want to focus on consuming whole, real, high-quality food and drinks. Some of the top foods to heal and prevent metabolic syndrome include:
1. Fish & Omega-3 Foods
The omega-3 found in wild-caught, cold-water fish have been found to help regulate heartbeat, reduce blood pressure, decrease blood clot formation and reduce overall inflammation, all of which decrease the risk for heart attacks and strokes. (10) Omega-3 foods are also cholesterol-lowering foods that help reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Other omega-3 foods include walnuts, flaxseeds, natto and grass-fed beef.
Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, avocado, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots are a just a few of the many options when it comes to your daily intake of vegetables, which are loaded with disease-fighting and anti-inflammatory antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Eating avocados in particular has been found to be clinically associated with lower metabolic syndrome in U.S. adults because avocado benefits your gut. (11) Think of a rainbow as you make your daily vegetable choices (red bell peppers to pumpkin to yellow squash to arugula to purple eggplant). This way, not only do you keep your meals interesting, but you obtain all of the great vitamins and nutrients vegetables can offer you!
Similar to vegetables, there are so many options that not only taste good, but help you ward off metabolic syndrome. You can opt for apples, bananas, oranges, pears or prunes if you need some ideas that are easy to consume quickly or on the go. In moderation (so you don’t overdo it on natural sugar), daily fruit consumption is an easy and therapeutic habit to develop if you haven’t already.
Pomegranate and pomegranate seeds in particular have been shown to help ameliorate metabolic syndrome. Research published in Food & Nutrition concluded that pomegranate “exerts hypoglycaemic effects, including increased insulin sensitivity, inhibition of α-glucosidase, and impact on glucose transporter type 4 function, but is also responsible for a reduction of total cholesterol, and the improvement of blood lipid profiles, as well as anti-inflammatory effects through the modulation of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor pathways. These effects may also explain how pomegranate-derived compounds function in the amelioration of adverse health effects caused by metabolic syndrome.” (12)
Some delicious and tasty legumes to try include kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and lima beans. Rich in fiber and protein, legumes are an excellent daily choice for keeping blood sugar stable and your waistline trim. And they’re particularly useful in preventing metabolic syndrome.
A 2014 study examined the effects of legumes on metabolic syndrome. A validated 48-item food frequency questionnaire was used to assess dietary behaviors of 2,027 individuals pulled from the Isfahan Healthy Heart Program. Researchers found that “all MetS components were less prevalent among subjects with regular legume intake.” (13)
5. Whole Grains
High-fiber foods, like quality whole grains including oatmeal and brown rice, not only have proven benefits for diabetes and heart health, but they also help keep your waistline in check. As such, whole grains are a part of a balanced, healthy metabolic syndrome diet treatment plan. (14)
1. Ginseng, Berberine & Bitter melon
Research published in 2009 showed that ginseng, berberine and bitter melon, which are commonly used in Chinese medicine, are potent natural remedies when it comes to metabolic syndrome. They help regulate glucose and lipid metabolism, which directly and positively affect weight management. (15)
2. Holy Basil
When researchers from the Department of Home Science at Azad University of Agriculture and Technology in India investigated the effects of holy basil leaves on blood glucose and serum cholesterol levels in humans through double-blind clinical trials, the outcomes showed that holy basil caused significant improvements in blood glucose control and mild improvements in cholesterol levels. This suggests that basil supplementation can be a useful and safe way to help control diabetes and complications that result from the disease like metabolic syndrome. (16)
Spirulina contains phycocyanin, a pigment that scientists have discovered possesses antihypertensive effects, meaning it lowers blood pressure). Japanese researchers claim that this is because consuming the blue-green algae reverses endothelial dysfunction in metabolic syndrome. (17)
4. Maca Root
Maca root increases the glutathione levels in the body, which not only improves your immune system and disease resistance, but also helps balance proper levels of cholesterol in the body. In addition, it significantly improves glucose tolerance by lowering levels of glucose in the blood, which improves heart health and conditions like diabetes or metabolic syndrome. (18)
Natural Metabolic Syndrome Treatment
1. Essential Oils
Three awesome essential oils for weight loss are grapefruit, cinnamon and ginger. Grapefruit essential oil actually works with your body in activating enzymes that help your body break down brown body fat. Cinnamon oil has been shown time and time again to help regulate blood glucose levels and something in your body called GTF, glucose tolerance factor. For that reason, cinnamon oil is also fantastic for anybody with diabetes. (19, 20)
Ginger oil reduces sugar cravings and helps reduce inflammation in the body. If you’re going to lose weight, it’s key that you also reduce inflammation and support digestion and absorption of nutrients, which ginger oil helps you to do. (21)
2. Burst Training
Getting rid of belly fat is key when it comes to treating metabolic syndrome. Burst training helps your body become a fat-burning machine. It consists of exercising at 90 percent to 100 percent of your maximum effort for 30 to 60 seconds, slowing it down to low-impact for a recovery period of just 30 to 60 seconds, and then bumping it back up again.
If you’ve been spending hours on the treadmill without results, it’s because long-distance cardiovascular exercise can decrease testosterone and raise cortisol, the stress hormone. Increased levels of cortisol stimulate the appetite, increase fat storing, and slow down or inhibit exercise recovery. If burst training isn’t for you, then aim for at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. (22)
3. Lose Weight
Through diet and exercise, losing weight can reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure, helping to get your metabolic syndrome under control. (23)
4. Stop Smoking
Smoking cigarettes can lead to and worsen the health consequences of metabolic syndrome as well as increase your likelihood for heart problems and stroke, among other major health concerns. (24)
What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is also sometimes called dysmetabolic syndrome syndrome X, metabolic disease or insulin resistance syndrome. What is metabolic syndrome exactly? It’s actually the term for a cluster of conditions, including abdominal obesity, high triglyceride levels, high fasting blood sugar levels, high blood pressure or low HDL cholesterol. When a person has three or more of these metabolic risk factors occurring together, then he or she is diagnosed as having metabolic syndrome.
About 85 percent of people who have type 2 diabetes also have metabolic syndrome. These individuals have a much higher risk for heart disease than the 15 percent of people who have type 2 diabetes without metabolic syndrome. (25) Thus, natural diabetes treatments also are used to treat metabolic syndrome.
Conventional Treatment of Metabolic Syndrome
I’m happy to say that aggressive and heart-healthy lifestyle changes are typically the main treatment for metabolic syndrome, which I fully support since lifestyle changes are the natural approach and get to the root causes of the disorder. Recommended lifestyle changes typically include heart-healthy eating, good stress management, losing and maintaining a healthy weight, more physical activity, and quitting smoking.
If lifestyle changes aren’t effective, then your doctor will likely prescribe medications to treat and control your risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and high blood sugar.
A doctor’s main goal when treating metabolic syndrome is to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The second goal of treatment is to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes, if it hasn’t already developed.
Metabolic Syndrome Symptoms & Risk Factors
It’s scary but true that most of the disorders associated with metabolic syndrome are symptomless. However, one very common visible sign of metabolic syndrome is a large waist circumference: at least 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. If most of your fat is around your waist rather than at your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (26)
Other symptoms and risk factors include:
1. High Fasting Blood Sugar
If you have very high blood sugar, then you might experience the signs and symptoms of diabetes like increased thirst, increased urination, fatigue and blurred vision. A normal fasting blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dL. A fasting blood sugar level between 100–125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes. A fasting blood sugar level of 126 mg/dL or higher is considered diabetes. A fasting blood sugar level of 100 mg/dL or higher (or being on medicine to treat high blood sugar) is considered a metabolic risk factor.
2. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is another symptom and risk factor for metabolic syndrome, which can go unnoticed unless you check your blood pressure regularly. A blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher (or being on medicine to treat high blood pressure) is considered a metabolic risk factor.
3. High Triglycerides
Another possible sign of metabolic syndrome is a high triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat or lipid found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides. A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher (or being on medicine to treat high triglycerides) is a metabolic risk factor for metabolic syndrome.
4. Low HDL Cholesterol
HDL cholesterol is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. An HDL cholesterol level of less than 50 mg/dL for women and less than 40 mg/dL for men (or being on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol) is risk factor for metabolic syndrome.
A doctor can diagnose metabolic syndrome based on the results of a physical exam and blood tests.
Metabolic Syndrome Causes
The two main causes of metabolic syndrome are being overweight or obese and a lack of physical activity. A 2017 study highlighted that an hour of weekly resistance exercise was associated with 29 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, compared to no resistance exercising. Participants who coupled aerobic exercise with their resistance exercise showcased a 25 percent lower risk. (27) Metabolic syndrome is a metabolic disease that’s directly linked with insulin resistance, which is more common in obese and inactive people.
Let me explain what I mean by insulin resistance. A healthy digestive system breaks down food into glucose. Next, insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps the glucose enter your cells to be used as fuel. However, if you experience insulin resistance, your cells won’t respond in a typical fashion to insulin, and hence, the glucose cannot enter your cells as easily. This phenomenon results in increased glucose levels in your bloodstream despite your body’s efforts to manage the glucose by producing more and more insulin.
If this goes on long enough, then your body is unable to make enough insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels and you can develop diabetes. Since bout 85 percent of people who have type 2 diabetes also have metabolic syndrome, if you develop diabetes then your likelihood of having metabolic syndrome is increased by a very large margin.
Additional risk factors, most of which are unfortunately out of your control, that increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome include: (28)
- Age — Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age, affecting 40 percent of people over the age of 60.
- Race — Hispanics and Asians seem to be at greater risk of metabolic syndrome than are people of other races.
- Family history of diabetes — You’re more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or if you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).
- Other diseases — Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you’ve ever had cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or polycystic ovary syndrome.
In addition, researchers continue to study other health conditions that may play a role in metabolic syndrome, including:
- Breathing problems during sleep (such as sleep apnea)
Final Thoughts on Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is becoming more and more prevalent due to a rise in obesity rates among children and adults. In the not so distant future, metabolic syndrome may even overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for heart disease.
Thankfully, there is realistic hope for naturally preventing metabolic disorders in the body. You can prevent or delay metabolic syndrome mainly with something that is very much in your control — lifestyle changes. A daily and long-term effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle is no doubt your surest and best bet to avoid metabolic syndrome and all the complications that can arise from this multidimensional health struggle! So keep the following in mind:
- Metabolic syndrome is a metabolic disorder that involves not one, but a combination of three or more of the following health issues: abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
- On a metabolic syndrome diet treatment plan, you should avoid fake and processed foods, artificial sweeteners, diet sodas, trans fats, refined carbohydrates and sugar, and alcohol. Foods to eat include fish and omega-3 foods, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. In addition, the following supplements are beneficial for metabolic health: ginseng, berberine, bitter melon, holy basil, spirulina and maca root.
- Other natural remedies include essential oils, burst training, losing weight and not smoking.
- About 85 percent of people who have type 2 diabetes also have metabolic syndrome.
- Symptoms and risk factors for metabolic disease include large waist circumference, high fasting blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.
- The two main causes of metabolic syndrome are being overweight or obese and a lack of physical activity.