What is Metabolic Syndrome?

More from the European Society of Cardiology

The metabolic syndrome (MS) is a cluster of metabolic abnormalities with abdominal obesity (increased waist circumference) at its centre. Although all forms of obesity have a negative impact on human health, metabolic syndrome describes a set of particularly adverse biochemical changes accompanying (abdominal) obesity.

MS is most often identified by having three or more out of five possible abnormalities (components) which form the metabolic syndrome cluster. These five abnormalities in the cluster are:

  1. increased waist circumference (abdominal obesity),
  2. elevated triglycerides (a fat component in the blood),
  3. low HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol),
  4. a slightly increased blood glucose level (impaired fasting glycemia: the blood sugar level is not as high as in diabetes but is elevated above normal), and
  5. high blood pressure.

Our research (…) indicates that in (young) middle-aged subjects (35-55 year old) MS is frequently present (9-16% of subjects depending on the definition used) and that its presence coincides with a wide range of adverse cardiovascular changes.

More specifically we found a strong association between presence of MS and inflammation (a well documented marker of risk for future heart attacks and stroke), thickening and stiffening of the heart (potentially predisposing to heart failure) and more pronounced atherosclerosis (calcification and narrowing of the arteries). Importantly these effects were graded, every additional MS component present translated into a gradually higher likelihood of finding cardiovascular damage.

Efforts should be focused on awareness of abdominal obesity as a risk factor for developing heart disease, and on wide ranging preventive strategies to avert its (potentially epidemic) consequences.

The condition is known by a number of different names including syndrome X and insulin resistance amongst others.

People with the metabolic syndrome are at increased risk of coronary heart disease and other diseases related to plaque buildups in artery walls (e.g., stroke and peripheral vascular disease) and type 2 diabetes. – American Heart Association

While most factors leading to metabolic syndrome are under your control (diet, excercise, smoking, etc.) there appears to be at least one that isn’t: your place in the pecking order:

It is well documented that individuals with higher social status have lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). This is generally not explained by differences in lifestyle factors such as smoking and lack of exercise.

and your level of education:

When combining the factors in the metabolic syndrome, individuals with the highest level of education had 68% lower risk of having the metabolic syndrome than individuals with the lowest educational level. Surprisingly, this difference was not explained by differences in lifestyle or psychosocial factors: when taking these factors into account individuals with highest level of education still had 60% lower risk of having the metabolic syndrome. This is equal to a 2.5 higher risk of metabolic syndrome in the lowest socio-economic position compared to the highest.


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