Syndrome X: The risk of Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Syndrome X - The risk of Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Syndrome X, which is frequently called metabolic syndrome, is a collection of different symptoms that increase a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease. It is somewhat prevalent in America, as the American heart Association estimates that 47 million people have it.

The names “Syndrome X” and “metabolic syndrome” may be somewhat confusing, as this is not necessarily a single disease. The reason it called a syndrome is because, when the multiple factors that make up Syndrome X are combined, they greatly increase a person’s risk of heart disease and diabetes. The risk factors that make up this syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health, are as follows:

  • high blood pressure
  • high blood sugar
  • high triglycerides
  • unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • excess abdominal fat

Clinically, a person is considered to have Syndrome X is they have three or more of these symptoms, or if they are taking a medication to control them.

You may be wondering just how dangerous this syndrome is. research has indicated that its ability to predispose you to heart disease and diabetes is serious- Syndrome X doubles your risk of heart disease and blood vessel disease, and it makes you five times more likely to develop diabetes.

How Does Syndrome X Connect to Insulin Resistance and Diabetes?

syndrome x - Gerald Reaven MDsyndrome x - Gerald Reaven MD

In 1988, Dr. Gerald Reaven, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Stanford University, explained how Syndrome X is connected to diabetes, and how it is also connected to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance refers to the body’s inability regulate how insulin works in fat and in muscle tissue. This can result in high levels of blood sugar.

Because the body can’t use insulin properly, the pancreas then releases large amounts of insulin in an effort to lower blood sugar. This is called compensatory hyperinsulinemia. Reaven explains that Syndrome X is essentially both insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia, and that in some people, insulin resistance may develop into type two diabetes. Many with insulin resistance, however, are at risk for developing coronary heart disease. If you suspect you may have developed diabetes, one sign you may notice is a “diabetes rash,” or a rash that starts out pimple-like and progresses to painful and swollen patches of skin.

What Are Some Signs of Syndrome X?

syndrome x - waist circumference

Because Syndrome X is relatively common, and because the risks it carries are significant, many people may wonder how the can tell if they have it. While this syndrome must be diagnosed by a physician (we’ll look at some of the diagnostic criteria in a minute), there are a few components of the diagnosis that you may notice on your own.

One sign you can look for at home is waist circumference. One of the diagnostic criteria for the syndrome is waist circumference- for women, it is 35 inches or more, and for men, it is 40 inches or more. While at the doctor’s office, you may notice whether your blood pressure puts you at risk. If your blood pressure is 130/85 or higher, you may have metabolic syndrome as well.

What Blood Tests Help Diagnose Syndrome X?

However, in order to get a complete picture of your risk factors, some blood tests are necessary. If you or your doctor suspects you may have syndrome X, early testing is wise. By the time you notice advanced symptoms like a diabetes rash, you may have already progressed through the syndrome and into diabetes.

One blood test that helps determine if you have other risk factors is a test for triglycerides, which are a type of fat found in the blood. If a blood test determines you have 150 mg/dL (or 1.7mmol/L) of triglycerides, then you may have the syndrome if you also have other risk factors.

Another of the diagnostic criteria requiring a blood test is unhealthy cholesterol levels. If you have low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, you are at risk for Syndrome X. For men, having under 40 mg/dL(1.04 mmol/L)of HDL cholesterol means they are at risk. For women, under 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L)means they are at risk.

The last blood test commonly used to help diagnose Syndrome X is the test for fasting blood sugar. If your blood sugar is 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or more, you are considered to have high fasting blood sugar and are at risk.

How Can Syndrome X Be Managed?

Because the syndrome itself may not be as obvious as a diabetes rash or other advanced health complication, some people may want to be tested to see if they have it. If your doctor does determine you have Syndrome X, the next step is appropriate management.

By taking a holistic approach to management, you may be able to lower triglycerides, improve your cholesterol levels, and even lower blood sugar. Part of this management involves making healthy food choices: avoiding processed foods, diet sodas, and artificial sweeteners can help improve your symptoms, as can limiting consumption of refined carbohydrates.

Additionally, losing weight has been shown to improve or reverse multiple markers of metabolic syndrome. A combination of healthy diet and exercise program is often recommended for those with Syndrome X. Supplementation can also help: spirulina has been shown to have anti-hypertensive effects, and ginseng, berberine, and bitter melon are all supplements that can help you regulate your body’s use of insulin. Holy basil can improve blood glucose levels, and maca root can help balance cholesterol. Adding these supplements to a healthy diet and exercise program may help you to manage your metabolic syndrome.

While “Syndrome X” is a somewhat scary-sounding name, if you find yourself diagnosed with this syndrome, there are still steps you can take to manage it and prevent further progression and development of diabetes. You and your doctor can work together to find a plan of action to help improve your health.


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