Unzipping Metabolic Syndrome - by Jeremy Hill

Are your pants a little tight around the waist lately? Have your jeans sprouted a muffin top? It's just a little tummy fat, right? Nothing to worry about you think, you've just become a little extra cuddly. More to love perhaps? A little ironic isn't it, that the bigger your love handles get, the more likely your hormones will be unbalanced and the less likely you are to feel like actually "getting some loving". And when it comes to increasing amounts of fat accumulating around your midline, a lowered libido is the least of your troubles.

An excess of unwanted belly fat is a sign that you may already have, or may be heading in the direction of getting, Metabolic Syndrome, a term which specifically refers to when an individual has met three or more of five specific metabolic imbalances, as outlined the following criteria:

Abdominal obesity with a waist of greater than 102 cm in males and 88 cm in women.
A blood triglyceride level above 1.69 mmol/L.
A level of the good cholesterol (HDL) below 1.04 mmol/L in men 1.29 mmol/L in women.
Blood pressure elevated to above 130/85 mm Hg.
Fasting blood sugar level above 5.5 mmol/L.

The gradual spreading of the waistline tends to be accepted by many as just an unattractive part of the whole ageing deal. It is, in fact, a highly predictive marker for the future development of major health problems. Fortunately, it is also both preventable and treatable.

While genetic tendencies and dietary habits do play a huge role in pushing an individual towards Metabolic Syndrome, it is exercise, or more specifically inadequate exercise which is the syndrome's major driving force. Unfortunately, as we age, many people tend to develop increasingly sedentary lives, feeling that their legacy of years of hard work and plenty of sport in their youth means they have now earned their place on the couch. They may carry feeble excuses in an attempt to justify their increasingly sedentary lifestyle, with claims such as "I'm too busy", or "I don't have enough energy", "I don't like gyms", "I can't afford the equipment", "My injuries or illness stops me", or "I can never get away from the kids for long enough". Or even just, "I'm not an exerciser".

For me as a naturopath who puts great emphasis upon always keeping active to achieve better health for life, the most frustrating excuse for not exercising has to be "I'm happy with my shape and my family love me as I am". The fact is I can see huge merit in having such a strong base of self love and family support. But there is also a great tragedy in seeing such sound emotional stability having to meet the unnecessary physical challenges that often accompany an inactive life and an excess of belly fat. While it is very important for your emotional health to feel good about yourself no matter what your shape, it is also just as important to cast an observant and honest eye over your body on a regular basis and realistically consider any weak points that might need addressing in your health.

The chances of developing cancer, heart disease and diabetes increase dramatically with a sedentary lifestyle - and conversely - adding exercise to the program of a low activity individual markedly lowers the risk of such diseases.

Metabolic Syndrome has, at the root of its development, a problem with the way the cells of the body handle the hormone insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas in amounts required to effectively assist the entry of blood sugars into the cells so these sugars can then be processed to produce energy.

In the case of Metabolic Syndrome, the cells become less responsive to insulin and thus increased amounts of insulin are produced to achieve a normalising effect on the blood sugars. The resulting high blood level of insulin has multiple negative effects on health and speeding up the rate of biological ageing.

Apart from the above features defining Metabolic Syndrome, there are several other signs and symptoms that can indicate the syndrome is looming. Skin tags around the groin, armpit and neck are one such sign, as are hormonal problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and impotence. Headaches, depression, poor memory, snoring, sleep apnoea and fatigue also add to, but do not complete, the list of secondary symptoms that can accompany Metabolic Syndrome.

We have used the VLA (Vitality and Longevity Analysis) to assess patient body composition and cellular health since April 2000. Many naturopaths Australia-wide use this equipment now and a much awaited update to the program in 2005 now allows a rapid assessment of Metabolic Syndrome risk and provides insight into related aspects of health we can focus on improving.

If you think that Metabolic Syndrome is threatening your health, start by undertaking a consistent exercise program. Also consider consulting with a naturopath about the best dietary approach and most appropriate supplements to help improve your cellular insulin sensitivity and blood lipid levels.

Good Health, Jeremy Hill.