Results from your annual physical were not the best – high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure – should you be concerned? Yes. You may have a condition called metabolic syndrome that can erupt into multiple health worries. The good news is making lifestyle changes can significantly blunt the advancement of this health problem. But what is metabolic syndrome and how would you know if you have it?
Understanding metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions significantly increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If you have this condition, it’s not a matter of if you will have a heart attack or stroke; it’s a matter of when.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are five conditions considered to be risk facts for metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, abnormally high triglyceride levels, a low HDL cholesterol level (good cholesterol), and excess body fat around the waist (waist measurement or circumference). Below are the criteria for each of these conditions indicating if you are at risk:
- Blood Pressure – equal to or greater than 130/85 mmHg
- Fasting Blood Sugar – >100 mg/dl
- Triglycerides – equal to or greater than 150 mg/dl
- HDL Cholesterol – equal to or less than 50 mg/dl for women OR equal to or less than 40 mg/dl for men
- Waist Circumference – equal to or greater than 35 inches for women OR equal to or greater than 40 inches for men
Anyone with at least three or more of the risk factors has metabolic syndrome. Currently, a whopping 34 percent of American adults have metabolic syndrome, up from 25 percent two decades ago. And just recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has found that the gains made in improving death rates from heart disease and strokes, has stalled, which is driving down life expectancy in the U.S. This is after decades when Americans could expect to live longer than the generation before them.
4 Ways to avoid metabolic syndrome
Fortunately, there are numerous lifestyle modifications to prevent or control metabolic syndrome. Here are four simple steps to get the ball rolling in gaining back your health:
1. Eat avocados
If you have a fancy for this buttery tasting, healthy fat-filled fruit, then it’s the perfect reason to include it each day. Even science agrees. A review of 31 studies published in Phytotherapy Research suggests eating avocados can improve cholesterol levels. Avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while boosting HDL (good) cholesterol.
Another evidence-based scientific study in Nutrition Journal found people who ate, on average, half an avocado a day, had lower body weight, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumferences. By incorporating avocados throughout the day such as in a salad, spread on toast or as a dip for veggies, it helped cut the risk of developing metabolic syndrome in half.
2. Include more resistant starch
While it may sound contradictory to what you may have heard, I’m giving you the green light to enjoy starch, especially resistant starch. Resistant starches are carbohydrates that “resist” digestion in the small intestine and therefore move on undigested into the large intestine or colon. As the fibers in resistant starch ferment in the colon, they act as prebiotics helping feed the good bacteria in your gut. This is good news – people with metabolic syndrome who eat 10 grams of resistant starch daily, can improve their cholesterol in 12 weeks, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. As resistant starch feeds on good bacteria, this helps convert cholesterol into a form easily excreted from your body, reducing excess levels of this fat.
Each day, have foods containing resistant starch such as green bananas, oatmeal, barley, peas, cooked and cooled rice or potatoes (the process turns starch into the resistant kind), and white beans and lentils which are highest in resistant starch.
3. Reach a healthy body weight
No one says you have to be super skinny to avoid metabolic syndrome. But if you’re carrying a few extra pounds, some weight loss can be very beneficial. Research backs this up – a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that obese and overweight people who lost at least 10 percent of their body weight and kept it off for a year, had a 37 percent lower risk of metabolic syndrome. If shedding 10 percent body weight sound daunting, even a 5 percent loss can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce waist circumference.
4. Take up yoga
Maybe you’re not a runner or into lifting weights but why not strike a pose? While any form of exercise benefits metabolic syndrome, daily yoga sessions are special. Research shows stretching and elongating the body appears to help those either with metabolic syndrome or at risk of it, to shrink their waistlines about an inch after two weeks of doing yoga daily. It even can result in a drop in LDL cholesterol and BMI. Even just three times a week of yoga can reduce inflammation associated with metabolic syndrome helping to avoid conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Studies also show anyone who engages in some form of physical activity (light, moderate or vigorous) are less likely to develop metabolic syndrome. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity at a moderate-intensity level on most days of the week.