Look Closely: What are your risk factors for developing metabolic syndrome? (Hint: If you don’t think you have any, think again.)

by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald

View from NeoDerm Clinic in Hong KongI recently returned from a remarkable trip to Hong Kong, teaching about the global epidemic that is metabolic syndrome. In Asia, people are generally not overweight like we are in the US. Indeed, people in Hong Kong (and Asia in general) don’t fit the “apple body” (increased belly fat) MetSyn picture we see in the West. And yet, their numbers rival ours: Asians are developing metabolic syndrome and diabetes at rates nearing the West. Thus, we have to look closer for clues. So while I didn’t see the quintessential American pot belly in HK, other contributing factors abound: smoking, high stress, fast-paced living, eating out (lots of decadent Dim Sum and American fast food), reduced muscle-to-fat ratio, insufficient sleep and toxin exposures. (Remarkably, many toxins disrupt normal endocrine function, significantly increasing risk for MetSyn.) 

 
Preparing for the HK lectures, not surprisingly, caused much introspection: what are my risk factors for metabolic syndrome? I travel for work often, and am otherwise a desk jockey these days. These two facts alone mean I am too sedentary (despite regular exercise) and am exposed to excessive petroleum-derived toxins. 
 
My “ah ha” moment in developing this lecture was realizing that the modern lifestyle insidiously pushes all of us (not just the junk-food-eating couch potato) toward MetSyn unless we consciously, actively fight against it.
 
This is why Met Syn is a global threat.
 
What can we do differently? How can we reduce our risk factors? 
 
First: Read Dr. Mark Hyman’s The Blood Sugar Solution.
 
Second: Generate some goals. My starting goal is simple: I am stepping away from my desk at least a few times during my day and getting my pulse up by walking a few flights of stairs. I’d also like to start commuting by bike on days that I can. (I am going to Montana today. I'd better leave now!) 
 
What are you thinking? What risk factors are present in your life? What goals can you set? 
 
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of disorders, including higher blood triglycerides, abdominal adiposity, high blood pressure, low HDL (the so-called good cholesterol), insulin resistance and inflammation. MetSyn is a pre-diabetic gateway disease. As such, it’s associated with most (if not all) of the top ten causes of death in the US, including heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer disease, liver disease, kidney disease and high blood pressure.
 
MetSyn is primarily a lifestyle disease. It IS reversible.
 

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