What is the metabolic syndrome?

The metabolic syndrome used to be called ‘Syndrome X’. It is the association of increased waist circumference with raised triglycerides, low-HDL cholesterol, raised blood pressure and raised fasting glucose.

What’s so special about this group of apparently unrelated features? The inescapable conclusion of research is that a wide waist goes hand in hand with the other findings and that someone with this combination is at much higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. In fact, it’s now clear that the metabolic syndrome is at the root of our Western epidemics.

Not only does the metabolic syndrome pave the way to diabetes, angina, heart attacks and strokes, it has now been linked with some cases of cancer, infertility and erectile dysfunction (impotence).

Even a fasting glucose level of 5.6mmol/l and a blood pressure of 130/85 which your doctor will pass as normal are high enough to qualify for the metabolic syndrome (IDF definition). This is because even apparently mild risk factors clustered together in this combination produce a toxic cocktail.

Alarmingly, 40% of middle-aged people have the metabolic syndrome, and most of them are completely unaware of it. Now we’re finding the syndrome in children as young as 6!


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