Mind & Body

Eating ourselves into problems
‘X’ Marks the Danger Spot
We’re Eating Ourselves into an Array of Health Problems Known as Syndrome X

By Triston V. Sanders

{mosimage}Walk down any street in Tallahassee and look around. You probably would surmise fairly quickly that most people’s waistlines are larger than ever before. Now look down at your own. Has it expanded as well? If so, you could be at risk for Syndrome X.

It sounds mysterious, doesn’t it? That’s because it once was. Years ago, doctors would see patients with a cluster of health problems – high blood pressure, abdominal fat, insulin resistance and abnormal blood fats. Because the symptoms appeared to be related, they were referred to collectively as a “syndrome.” And because the cause of the syndrome was unknown, it became known as Syndrome X.

Why do these health ailments often occur together? And what’s causing them? After years of research, Syndrome X now is beginning to be understood by medical professionals. It even has a name to replace the mysterious Syndrome X: metabolic syndrome.

Registered Dietitian Lynn James works with patients in the Tallahassee area. She said she is relieved that the medical field finally is connecting the dots.

“I would say in the past few years, this is one of the questions that come up from either family members, friends or someone who I’m working with,” she said. “They would ask me, ‘What is this?’ It’s nice they’re finally defining it, because you knew it had something to do with diabetes
and something to do with their lipid profile. But exactly how to define it wasn’t clear.”

The American Heart Association states that the underlying causes of metabolic syndrome are obesity, physical inactivity and genetic factors. So how do you know if you’re a candidate?

Well, for starters, how old are you? The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates that from 40 percent to 50 percent of Americans over the age of 50 have metabolic syndrome. The prevalence increases with age, but the syndrome is documented in adults as young as 20 years old. All told, as many as 47 million Americans could have metabolic syndrome.

According to the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults, metabolic syndrome is identified by the presence of three or more factors which include: central obesity, measured by waist circumference (in men, it’s a waistline greater than 40 inches; in women, a waist of 35 inches or more); fasting blood triglycerides greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL; a lower level of blood HDL (“good”) cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL in men and less than 50 mg/dL in women); blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 mmHg and fasting glucose levels greater than or equal to 110 mg/dL.

Are you at risk? Three or more of these risk factors can indicate the presence of Syndrome X.

A quick glance at the information can be overwhelming. So here’s what James, the dietician, advises: “First, go to your physician and get some blood work done. See if you have three or more risk factors. If you do, you need to see a registered dietician to help steer you in the right direction. You’ll want to avoid ‘nutrition counselors.’ Find someone who is registered or licensed.”

The importance of finding out if you have metabolic syndrome cannot be overstated. This is a potentially life-saving measure that allows doctors and medical professionals to take a proactive approach to your health. Rather than having a heart attack or being diagnosed with diabetes, you have the opportunity to turn your health problems around now.

Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes but, according to the National Institutes of Health, about one-third of them don’t even know it. At a meeting of the American Diabetes Association, studies were presented showing that these early symptoms of diabetes and heart disease must be treated aggressively. It was revealed that by detecting and treating metabolic syndrome, heart attacks could be reduced in the United States by 63 percent.

The American Heart Association advises that if you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you should regularly monitor your body weight, blood glucose, lipoproteins and blood pressure. You also should treat your risk factors for hypertension and high blood glucose. And if necessary, carefully choose anti-hypertensive drugs, because different agents have different effects on insulin sensitivity.

Tallahassee cardiovascular surgeon Andre Jawde said he is alarmed at the obesity epidemic and the increasing number of people he has seen on his operating table over the past 29 years.

While it is important to consult with a physician if you think you might have metabolic syndrome, Jawde said that it is imperative for individual patients to “wake up and be in charge of their own health.

“Your doctor is not going to hold your hand all the time and tell you what to do,” he said. “You’re going to see your doctor, have an encounter with him and, after that, you leave,” he said. “First of all, you have to be well informed on the subject yourself, and second, you have to take charge of your health by having the information and by implementing it.”

In the United States, 66.5 percent of adults ages 20 and older are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“People consume a lot of calories, a lot of food, a lot more than they need,” Jawde said. “So we have a system overload. The only way to handle this is to look at the ‘in’ and ‘out.’ Look at what goes into the body in terms of calories and what gets burned out. If what goes in is very excessive in terms of what is burned, then the body is going to store these calories, and that’s what leads to insulin resistance.

“Basically, the only thing you can have in unlimited quantities is water. But you need to keep track of what you’re eating. If you forget, just write it down and then, when you look back, you see what you’re putting into your system,” he continued.

“You ought to be doing any form of exercise as simple as walking or taking the stairs. You ought to be going to the gym if you can’t do it on your own,” Jawde said. “You must make it all a habit, like brushing your teeth. This should be part of your personal care.

Are you at risk? Three or more of these risk factors can indicate the presence of Syndrome X:

  • • Central obesity, measured by waist circumference. In men, it’s a waistline greater than 40 inches; in women, a   waist of 35 inches or more.

• Fasting blood triglycerides greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL.• A lower level of blood HDL cholesterol – less than 40 mg/dL in men, less than 50 mg/dL in women.• Blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 mmHg.
• Fasting glucose levels greater than or equal to 110 mg/dL.


– Third Report of the National CholesterolEducation Program on Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults

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