Updated 03 March 2014

Metabolic Syndrome – a worldwide problem

What is Metabolic Syndrome? Could you have it?

Metabolic Syndrome has become widely recognised and talked about. Rather than being a single disease or disorder, Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of lifestyle-related diseases and chronic disorders grouped together because they are seen to be linked to an abnormal functioning of the metabolic processes – conversion of food into energy to be used, or stored as fat.

Metabolic Syndrome is linked to a resistance to the effects of insulin (insulin resistance), and is diagnosed when three or more lifestyle-related chronic conditions or disorders are found together. These disorders or conditions include: obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and high blood fats and low ‘good’ cholesterol. We can also now add certain cancers, dementia and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to this list.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the body (pancreas) to help glucose transfer into your cells to give the cells energy. Insulin-resistance results when the body can’t process food into energy effectively, because the cells are no longer receptive to the insulin. To compensate, the pancreas releases more and more insulin. The resulting high levels of insulin lead to an imbalance in fat metabolism, i.e. the ‘burning’ of fat is inhibited to a greater or lesser degree – meaning fat is easily stored, rather than being efficiently burned for energy. Over time, this metabolic dysfunction may lead to weight gain and if left untreated, it can result in obesity and many of the chronic diseases mentioned.

Who is at risk?

Not all those with Metabolic Syndrome are obese or even overweight (approximately 40% of normal weight adults may have, or be at risk for Metabolic Syndrome), but about 80% of obese adults are likely to have Metabolic Syndrome. A particular sign that someone is almost certainly prone to, or suffering from Metabolic Syndrome is central obesity – carrying excess weight around your middle.

In either case, anyone suffering from Metabolic Syndrome and its metabolic dysfunction, will have an imbalance of certain chemicals and hormones, resulting in the development of the lifestyle-related diseases associated with Metabolic Syndrome.

The key hormones/chemicals are:

•    Insulin – the fat building hormone - it plays a key role in both fat building and breakdown
•    Leptin – the fat storage hormone – it signals our brain that our fat cells are full
•    Ghrelin – the hunger hormone - it signals our brain that we are not hungry
•    Peptide YY (3-36) or PYY – the ‘satisfied’ hormone – it signals our brain that we have had enough to eat
•    Cortisol – the stress hormone – if chronically high encourages the storage of fat
Insulin is the most important though, and any treatment or regulation of Metabolic Syndrome means bringing Insulin levels into the normal range. Dr Peter Hill has helped to design a treatment program for Metabolic Syndrome. He says, “We’ve partnered with Dis-Chem to launch The Met-S Care Program designed for maximum success. We’ve looked at the causes and effects of Metabolic Syndrome and how to reduce insulin levels. The result is a first-of-its-kind program, designed in South Africa. The program involves initial testing for the lifestyle-related conditions, a consultation, ongoing support, supplement advice and scientifically designed meal replacements aimed at improving blood sugar and insulin function. We are looking for a permanent lifestyle change, not a quick fix and the program supports a positive change for life.”

Look out for the next article in the Metabolic Syndrome series where Dr Peter Hill examines the myth that ‘fat people are greedy’.

References available on request.