Overcoming Metabolic Syndrome

metabolic syndromeOne of the biggest health problems we face in modern society is metabolic syndrome. This imbalance in body chemistry ranges from mild insulin resistance to full-blown diabetes. Metabolic syndrome has been called by many names: hyperinsulinemia, syndrome X, cardiometabolic syndrome, diabesity and insulin resistance syndrome.

Metabolic Syndrome involves a variety of imbalances in a person’s metabolism. These imbalances are reflected in the official diagnostic criteria for this problem, which are:

  • Abdominal Obesity: Waist circumference greater than 40" in men or 35" in women.
  • High Triglycerides: Blood triglycerides higher than 150 mg/dL.
  • Low HDL Cholesterol: HDL less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women.
  • High Blood Pressure: Blood pressure higher than 130/85.
  • High Fasting Glucose: Blood glucose greater than 100 mg/dL.

If you match three or more of the above criteria, you’re one of the 25 million Americans who could be medically diagnosed with this problem. However, it’s more likely that at least half of the people in the United States have at least the beginning stages of this metabolic imbalance.

Understanding Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome involves cellular resistance to insulin, a peptide hormone that regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism and enables cells to utilize glucose. When cells start to become resistant to the effects of insulin, insulin levels in the blood rise causing hyperinsulinemia (hyper = high, insulin, emia = in the blood). The insulin resistance means that glucose can’t get into the cells, which causes a growing cascade of imbalances in your body.

First, the body usually starts storing the excess glucose as fat, causing weight gain around the mid-section. Not everyone with insulin resistance gains weight and not everyone who is overweight is insulin resistant, but in the majority of people these two conditions are linked, which is why Dr. Hyman calls it diabesity.

Having insulin resistance greatly increases your risk of high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, heart attacks and stroke. In fact, hyperinsulinemia is a much more serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease than high cholesterol. Furthermore, as the insulin resistance gets worse, it eventually leads to the development of type 2 or adult onset diabetes. Diabetes further increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and is the leading cause of blindness and amputations.

High levels of insulin cause other problems as well, such as increasing inflammation, increasing water retention and depressing neurotransmitters in the brain, which contributes to depression. Insulin resistance may also be a factor in Alzheimer’s disease, polycystic ovary disease, sleep apnea, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and even cancer.

Although herbs and supplements can help metabolic syndrome, they can’t reverse it. Overcoming it requires at least three lifestyle changes.

Step One: Improve Your Diet

food choicesThe first step one has to take to overcome metabolic syndrome is to change one’s diet by eliminating all simple sugars and starches. Avoiding foods with sugar, high fructose corn syrup and white flour is the first step, but many people need to severely curtail even natural forms of starch and sugar for a while to get their blood sugar under control. This means giving up all fruit juices, whole grains and potatoes for a while until blood sugar levels become more normal. The diet should focus primarily on low glycemic (non-starchy) vegetables and high quality proteins.

If you crave sugar, read my article Breaking the Addiction to Sugar. It will give you suggests about how you can change your metabolism so you no longer crave sugar. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. First, don’t eat simple carbohydrates like toast, cereals, etc. for breakfast. Eat protein and some good fats first thing in the morning. If a traditional breakfast of eggs and meat doesn’t appeal to you, at least make a protein shake.

Second, try satisfying your sweet tooth with whole fruits. At the very least try using some sweets made with natural sugars like maple syrup, honey or raw sugar. You can also try using a little stevia, xylitol or other natural sugar substitute.

Three, eat a lot of non-starchy vegetables like zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, great beans, Swiss chard, celery and so forth. These low-glycemic vegetables provide complex carbohydrates that won’t elevate blood sugar and trigger insulin release.

Step Two: Become More Physically Active

Exercise is essential to managing metabolic syndrome. Physical activity that makes your muscles “burn” causes cells to take up sugar without insulin. And, it doesn’t take a lot of exercise, either. Just three workouts a week can help to dramatically reduce blood sugar and insulin levels.

At the very least try walking for 30-60 minutes a day. Weight lifting or resistance exercise is also very beneficial. If the idea of exercise doesn’t appeal to you, then do something that involves physical “play” such as swimming, golf, tennis or any other sport you can enjoy.

Step Three: Get Stress Under Control

dealing with stressStress plays a role in the development of insulin resistance by stimulating the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Adaptogenic herbs are very helpful for reducing stress levels and have been shown to help balance blood sugar levels or even reduce insulin resistance. Try using a good Adaptagenic Formula containing herbs like eleuthero root, Korean or American ginseng, schizandra, ashwaganda or rhodiola. B-complex vitamins and vitamin C can also be helpful for helping the body cope better with stress.

There are several articles on this website that deal with managing stress. To learn more, try reading Seven Stress Solving Secrets and Physical and Psychological Approaches to Stress.

It’s also important to get a good night’s sleep. If you are tired during the day, but have restless and disturbed sleep, an Adaptogenic Formula can be helpful. A Sleep Formula using herbs like hops, valerian, skullcap, passion flower and/or kava kava may also be helpful if you have a hard time relaxing in the evening. Gaia Herbs formula Herbal Sleep is one I’ve had very good results with.

5-HTP can also be helpful for sleep and may also help reduce your cravings for sugar and other simple carbohydrates. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, a mood-elevating neurotransmitter. Take 5-HTP about an hour before bedtime and make sure you eliminate all sources of light in your room when you go to bed. Darkness is what causes the pineal gland to convert serotonin to melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.

Supplements for Metabolic Syndrome

In addition to these lifestyle changes, supplements to overcome insulin resistance and balance blood sugar can be helpful. If you experience frequent thirst and urination, a sense of “dryness” in your body, hot flashes, night sweats and/or burning sensations in your hands and feet, try the NSP formula HY-C. This traditional Chinese herbal formula for deficient yin helps to balance blood sugar, reduce insulin resistance and help your cells to hydrate better.

There are several minerals that reduce insulin resistance. One of these is chromium, which plays a role in creating the glucose tolerance factor, a hormone-like compound that works with insulin to transport glucose into the cells. If your energy levels tend to be low, try taking GTF Chromium. Three other minerals that are helpful for reducing insulin resistance are magnesium, zinc and vanadium. Since most people are deficient in magnesium, people with Metabolic Syndrome will probably benefit from taking 400-800 mg of magnesium daily.

Nutrients that help overcome insulin resistance include alpha lipoic acid, omega-3 essential fatty acids and vitamin D3. Almost everyone in our society doesn’t get enough vitamin D3, so this is a good one to start with. If the problem has developed into full blown diabetes alpha lipoic acid can be very helpful for getting blood sugar levels back under control.

There are also many herbs that help to reduce insulin resistance. Blood Sugar Balancing formulas containing herbs like cinnamon, bitter melon, gymnema and nopal, can be helpful along with the above recommended lifestyle changes for those with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.

You don’t have to be a victim of metabolic syndrome. If you want to avoid or reverse type 2 diabetes, reduce your risk of heart disease, lose weight, have more energy and potentially lengthen your life, the above changes are well worth the effort.