Metabolic Syndrome

This answer is brought to you by many of the Australian nutrition professionals who regularly contribute to the Nutritionists Network ('Nut-Net'), a nutrition email discussion group.

What does 'metabolic syndrome' mean?

Metabolic syndrome is a condition in which a group of risk factors for cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and type 2 diabetes occur together. Although it doesn't have a universally accepted definition, most health professionals would include the following as the principal components: abdominal obesity (i.e. excess body fat in the region of the stomach), high blood pressure, low blood levels of the 'good' cholesterol, HDL, high blood
levels of the 'bad' cholesterol, LDL, high blood levels of triglycerides; and insulin resistance (that is, an impaired ability of the body's insulin to handle blood glucose).

How common is metabolic syndrome?

Although its exact frequency isn't known, the condition is widespread among the adult population in developed nations, and increases in frequency with age. However, it isn't just adults who are affected - the condition is also afflicting an increasing number of children and adolescents as the worldwide epidemic of obesity spreads across the age groups.

What are the health implications of having metabolic syndrome?

Each of the components of metabolic syndrome acts to significantly increase the risk of developing one or more diseases. For example, excess abdominal fat is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease; hypertension is the most important risk factor for stroke; high blood LDL and low HDL increase the risk of heart disease, and insulin resistance can be the first step on the road to type 2 diabetes. In brief, having type 2 diabetes significantly increases the risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease and blindness, and also of having to undergo limb amputations (due to gangrene). The rapid increase in incidence of metabolic syndrome, not only among adults but also in children and adolescents, represents a potential 'time bomb' for the future adult populations of developed nations.

What can be done to reduce my risk of developing metabolic syndrome, or to help overcome the syndrome if I already have it?

First and foremost, if you are undergoing treatment for any of the components of metabolic syndrome (or for the actual diseases associated with it, such as diabetes or heart disease) it is essential that you take the advice of your professional health carer(s). Your doctor and/or dietitian will be aware of your particular circumstances and can prescribe treatment that is tailored to best meet your requirements. The following advice is of a general nature only, but is useful for reducing the risk (or severity) of metabolic syndrome. 
  • Increase activity levels
  • Improve health through better eating habits
  • Lose some weight (if overweight or obese)
  • Quit smoking (if you are a smoker)
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Take any medications prescribed by your doctor

Please see the attachments below for more detailed information about the metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic Syndrome_Printable Short Summary.pdf122.23 KB
Metabolic Syndrome_Printable Detailed Summary.pdf147.19 KB


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