Also called “syndrome X,” metabolic syndrome is the name for a cluster of conditions and risk factors that can increase your risk of certain illnesses.
The cluster generally includes five conditions: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, high triglyceride levels, and low HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind). According to the American Heart Association, having at least three of these five conditions equals a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. Having metabolic syndrome means being at greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The “syndrome” part of this is important, as the cumulative impacts of metabolic syndrome are greater than the sum of its parts. Metabolic syndrome is a greater health risk than, say, high blood sugar + excess belly fat + low HDL would seem to be.
Metabolic syndrome happens to a lot of people in midlife, but it is particularly of concern for women of menopausal age. According to The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), metabolic syndrome affects 30 to 60 percent of postmenopausal women worldwide.
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As heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the US, reducing the incidence of metabolic syndrome could help reduce the number of lives lost prematurely.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a few things can increase your risk of developing the constellation of conditions known as metabolic syndrome:
Additionally, if you have darkened skin patches on your underarms or the back of your neck, or skin tags (usually on the neck), these can be indicators of insulin resistance, says the Cleveland Clinic, so you may want to keep a close eye on the numbers listed below.
To be diagnosed with the syndrome requires having at least three of the conditions, so your doctor may want to do several different tests. If any three tests return numbers equal to or greater (lower, for HDL) than the below, that would mean a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.
If your numbers aren’t in the red zone yet, it’s still a good idea to watch them carefully and manage risk factors, as our numbers tend to move in unhelpful directions after menopause.
Genetics and menopause can both play a role in the development of metabolic syndrome, and neither are under our control, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of luck.
If you suspect you may be at risk, especially if you’re post-menopausal, get tested. If you’re at or near the levels for metabolic syndrome, make a plan with your doctor to manage, monitor, and track blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
Diet can play a significant role here. Eating a heart-healthy diet that leans heavily on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and fish is a great idea. Exercise can increase cardiovascular health. Definitely you want to manage your weight, especially if excess weight now tends to settle around your mid-section. Quit smoking, if you possibly can.
According to a study published in Menopause (the NAMS journal), taking vitamin D and estradiol may help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Higher levels of vitamin D were associated with better cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose level numbers; the odds of acquiring metabolic syndrome increased as vitamin D levels decreased. Low estradiol levels increased the risk of metabolic syndrome in women who had insufficient vitamin D.
The results need further study before any conclusions can be drawn, but it does perhaps demonstrate the importance of getting enough vitamin D, and it might be another factor to discuss with your doctor if you’re debating getting on hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Are you at risk of developing metabolic syndrome, or are you already managing the condition? We’d love to learn from you, so please share your experience with us in the Gennev Community Forums!
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