Mind & Body

X Marks DangerWe’re Eating Ourselves Into an Alarming Condition Known as Syndrome X

By Triston V. Sanders

Walk down any street 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.

Leslie Fleisher, M.D. of White-Wilson Medical Center, works with patients in the Emerald Coast area. As a health care provider, defining metabolic syndrome is an important step.

“It means that we have a way of identifying more patients to screen for coronary artery disease,” Fleisher said.
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. These factors 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 triglyceride levels 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.

A quick glance at the information can be overwhelming.

Fleisher recommends contacting your physician to be screened for coronary artery disease and address hypertension specifically. The importance of finding out if you have metabolic syndrome cannot be overstated. Rather than having a heart attack or being diagnosed with diabetes, you have the opportunity to turn your health problems around now.

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.

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

“Today, perhaps we do less physical activity and drive more,” Fleisher said. Physical activity and diet modification are key in battling metabolic syndrome. Fleisher recommends “at least a half hour of exercise three days per week that will raise the heart rate to 130 to 140 beats per minute.”