According to the American Heart Association, 20-25% of adults suffer from Metabolic Syndrome. This is the equivalent of 58-73 million men and women across the country. Many of these people may not know that they have Metabolic Syndrome and simply think they are having a terribly tough time losing weight. What they do not realize is that there is an underlying problem with their body’s ability to process sugars from carbohydrates.
Metabolic Syndrome Defined
Metabolic Syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is defined by the following list of signs/symptoms: hypertension, high cholesterol (high LDL, low HDL), high triglycerides, insulin resistance and central obesity. Given the description of Metabolic Syndrome, it is very clear as to why this syndrome increases the risk of heart attack and stroke by 25% and increases the chance of developing Type II Diabetes significantly.
How Metabolic Syndrome Develops
To understand why people develop Metabolic Syndrome we have to look at diet and lifestyle and the long term consequences of our choices over time. The development of Metabolic Syndrome starts with our body’s insulin production in response to the consumption of carbohydrates. All carbohydrates break down into glucose which is used by the body to produce energy. All carbohydrates are not equal, however, with the sugars from some being absorbed very quickly while others are digested and absorbed at a slower rate. This is the difference between simple (quickly absorbed) and complex (slowly absorbed) carbohydrates. Examples of simple carbohydrates include refined grains (white flour, white rice) and anything made with them, sweeteners of all kinds, fruit juice, potatoes, refined and processed foods in general, some fruits, alcohol, candy and other sweet treats. Examples of complex carbohydrates include vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
When we consume an abundance of simple carbohydrates our blood sugar elevates very quickly. In response to this, the pancreas produces insulin so that glucose can be escorted into the cells to be used for energy production. If the amount of glucose that we have absorbed exceeds the body’s need for energy production, the cells will no longer accept the glucose. As a result, blood sugar stays elevated and in an effort to bring it down, the pancreas will continue to produce insulin. Two things occur at this point: 1) glucose is converted to fat and cholesterol so that it is moved out of the blood, and 2) the body becomes resistant to the effects of its own insulin because the need for energy production has been met. If this biochemical process occurs several times a day, several days a week over several years due to a diet high in simple carbohydrates, the development of insulin resistance makes it very difficult to lose weight and keep cholesterol down.
In addition to bringing glucose into cells, insulin is considered a rebuilding hormone that helps the body to replenish structural and functional biochemicals and to store excess sugar as fat and cholesterol. This is a normal process that allows us to draw upon energy reserves when needed. However, too much of a good thing can be bad and as important as insulin is to our survival, the constant production brought about through the over-consumption of simple carbs may be sending us to an early grave preceded by many years of ill-health and obesity.
Other diseases associated with insulin resistance are infertility, polycystic ovaries, impaired immunity, chronic inflammation, cancer and liver disorders.
Correcting Insulin Resistance
The cure is in the cause! If poor diet and lifestyle led to the development of insulin resistance, improving diet, exercising regularly and getting quality sleep will improve if not cure this disease. To reverse this process, your body needs to become re-sensitized to its own insulin. To accomplish this, one has to forego simple carbohydrates and focus on complex carbohydrates mostly in the form of a wide variety of vegetables. Meals should be balanced with a source of protein (meat, fish, chicken, eggs, etc.) and lots of veggies. Fats usually come in as a condiment, are used in cooking or are found in dairy, nuts and seeds.
Regular exercise can reduce insulin levels as well as decrease elevated blood sugar. Sleep plays a vital role in hormonal balance overall and the importance of a good night’s sleep is a topic in and of itself. Suffice it to say that people who get less than 7 hours of quality sleep per night tend to have a higher level of body fat than those who do get a solid 7-8 hours per night.
Supplements that help increase insulin sensitivity include chromium, vanadium, B-complex, biotin, zinc, alpha lipoic acid, fiber and essential fats (fish, flax oil). Some herbs that are also helpful are fenugreek, gymnema, bitter melon and cinnamon. There are several products on the market that contain a variety of these items and can be very helpful with reducing sugar cravings and decreasing insulin levels.