Should I be worried about metabolic syndrome? If you want to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, the answer is yes
The major medical establishments have been tossing around the term “Metabolic Syndrome” since the late 1970’s in an effort to describe a combination of symptoms that can foretell a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Like many concepts in western medicine, there is a lack of precise agreement on exactly what constitutes metabolic syndrome. In fact, there is some disagreement on the actual name of the syndrome. Over the years, it has been referred to as syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome, and Reaven’s syndrome.
But there is one thing that almost everyone in the medical community can agree on … The prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the US is out of control, with the recent estimates at a quarter of the adult population!1
And what is even more frightening is this … if you have metabolic syndrome, medical research has determined that you’re at three times the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. And your risk of dying from heart disease if you suffer from metabolic syndrome is 5½ times greater than people with heart disease who do not have metabolic syndrome.2
What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?
As stated before, there is some disagreement on the exact definition of what constitutes metabolic syndrome. One of the most widely accepted is from the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. For the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, their criteria are if you have three or more of the following symptoms:3
- Blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85 mmHg
- Blood sugar (glucose) equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL
- Large waist circumference (measurement around the waist):
- Men – 40 inches or more
- Women – 35 inches or more
- Low HDL cholesterol:
- Men – under 40 mg/dL
- Women – under 50 mg/dL
- Triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL
Other conditions are often grouped with the symptoms above. One of the most important ones is a proinflammatory state, characterized by elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). The other is a pro-thrombotic state, characterized by elevated levels of substances in blood that lead to artery blockage and strokes.4
The key to breaking the chains of metabolic syndrome … get your blood sugar under CONTROL
While there is no single cause to metabolic syndrome, one contributing factor stands out: insulin resistance. And the key to controlling insulin resistance is to control blood sugar levels.
You’ve probably heard the term “insulin resistance” many times by now. It’s been used in many commercials to sell diet books, videos, and specialty diet foods. But insulin resistance is very real. Here’s how it can happen in your body …
Your cells need energy to carry on the many vital, complex functions they have. They get energy in the form of glucose, a simple sugar your body gets from the food you eat. But for this glucose to be used, it has to get inside your cells.
Insulin—a natural hormone produced in your pancreas—bonds to receptors on the outside of cells. There it acts like a key to let glucose enter. When the doorway no longer recognizes the insulin key, glucose stays in the blood rather than entering the cells.
The pancreas responds by releasing large amounts of insulin to lower the glucose levels. Your pancreas can compensate for this flood of glucose for a number of years by secreting more and more insulin. But after a while, your cells become overwhelmed by all the insulin and they start to respond to the insulin much more sluggishly.
The amount of glucose in your blood gets higher. The pancreas keeps receiving signals that glucose levels are high, so it ratchets up insulin production. The more insulin that’s released, the less effective it becomes, and the more resistant to insulin your body’s cells become. This is insulin resistance!
Too much insulin = uncontrollable weight gain
Making the situation worse, insulin also promotes the formations of adipose tissue. The more insulin your pancreas secretes, the more likely you will gain weight!
An even more insidious reason for this is that the fat cells do NOT develop insulin resistance to the degree other cell types do. The result is that, in insulin resistance, your muscles and organs are being starved while your chubby fat cells are being fed … and fed quite well!
Adipose tissue also produces unsafe levels of cellular substances that have a wide range of dangerous metabolic effects … including those leading to metabolic syndrome.5
All adipose tissue produces these potentially dangerous substances. But the adipose tissue that develops around your belly turns out to be a particularly good site for their production. That’s why increased waist circumference is a leading indicator of the presence of metabolic syndrome!
So you see, getting your blood sugar under control is the first step to preventing metabolic syndrome. You can eliminate two of the five metabolic syndrome symptoms—elevated blood sugar and large waist circumference— just by maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. This also greatly reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Natural supplements for maintaining healthy blood sugar and preventing (or reversing!) metabolic syndrome
In the fight against metabolic syndrome, and all the long-term health consequences associated with it, there are a number of natural herbs that you can take to help get your blood sugar levels under control.
Banaba reduces blood sugar by a whopping 20-30%!
Banaba leaf extract (Lagerstroemia speciosa L.) is a traditional remedy from Southeast Asia, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, and the Philippines and has been used for more than 1,500 years for treating edema, dropsy, ulcer, high blood sugar, and diabetes.
One key anti-metabolic syndrome component in banaba is a substance called corosolic acid, which has a strong blood glucose lowering effect. In one randomized clinical trial, corosolic acid reduced blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetic individuals by 20-30%.6
Banaba doesn’t just fight metabolic syndrome by lowering blood glucose levels. It also fights it very effectively along a number of different metabolic pathways.
In a study with animals with the equivalent of metabolic syndrome, corosolic acid derived from banaba lowered blood pressure by 10% in eight weeks. It also reduced free fatty acids by 21% after only two weeks.7 Banaba extract contains components called gallotannins. These substances have insulin-like glucose transport capabilities that facilitate glucose transport across cell membranes and into the cells where it is needed.8 Circulating glucose is lowered, and insulin resistance is significantly diminished.
Tannins from banaba also appear to inhibit the expression of key genes for adipose tissue (fat cell) production.9 Banaba fights metabolic syndrome and induces metabolic rescue by reducing dangerous concentrations of adipose tissue especially around the belly … with the welcome “side effect” of helping users lose weight.
Adding a little spice helps conquer metabolic syndrome
Recent research into natural antimetabolic syndrome supplements has identified one you probably have in your kitchen cabinet—cinnamon. Like banaba, cinnamon’s history as a control for diabetes goes back thousands of years.
Plain cinnamon has a direct and significant blood glucose lowering effect. In one double-blind study, a total of 79 patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to take either a cinnamon extract or a placebo capsule three times a day for four months.
The results were impressive. The study reports: “The mean absolute and percentage differences between the pre- and post-intervention fasting plasma glucose levels of the cinnamon and placebo groups were significantly different.”10
Numerous other studies—including some funded by the US Department of Agriculture in Dr. Richard Anderson’s lab11—confirm these results. They’ve also shown that cinnamon has the ability to control lipids.
Cinnamon extract not only supports healthy blood sugar levels, but also has excellent antioxidant properties.12 In supplement form, it’s best taken with meals so that it can have an immediate effect on blood glucose.
A “metal” armors cinnamon to fight metabolic syndrome battle
The exact mode of action of cinnamon’s blood sugar lowering power hasn’t been determined yet. But Dr. Anderson and other researchers have identified several of the water-soluble components that are responsible for cinnamon’s anti-metabolic syndrome activity.
One of these components—and a very crucial one for your supplementation program—is the metal chromium. Anderson’s research showed that people with type 2 diabetes given supplemental chromium displayed improved glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, decreased visceral adipose tissue and body weight compared with the placebo group.13
Anderson summarized his research on chromium as an effective antimetabolic syndrome agent this way:
“… cell culture, experimental animal, and human studies demonstrate that improved chromium nutrition leads to improvements in abnormalities associated with the metabolic syndrome.”
Chromium in its triple valence state (as picolinate or polynicotinate) is generally accepted as being safe.14
However, overuse of any mineral in a supplementation program is inadvisable. Dosages not exceeding 400 mcg per day are both safe and effective for protection against metabolic syndrome.
Gymnema sylvestre stimulates effective insulin production … reduces weight … and balances lipids
One of the most exciting natural alternatives in the fight against metabolic syndrome is the extract of a vine from the rain forests of central and southern India called Gymnema sylvestre.
Gymnema has been used safely and effectively in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for over 2,000 years for the treatment of “sweet urine,” or diabetes. Studies have shown that Gymnema …
- Reduces the amount of sugar absorbed from food in the intestines
- Stimulates insulin production and release
- Appears to build pancreatic beta cells, producing insulin efficiency
- Supports weight loss
In two separate studies reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Gymnema sylvestre was given to 49 patients with type 2 diabetes to supplement their anti-diabetic medication.
Slow Carbohydrate Absorption
Improve Insulin Regulation
A rat study reported in 2007 confirmed the weight reducing power of Gymnema. It also reported this supplement regulated and balanced lipid metabolism—a crucial consideration leading to metabolic rescue and management of metabolic syndrome. The researchers stated: “Supplementation with [Gymnema] promoted weight loss by its ability to reduce hyperlipidemia, which was no withdrawal rebound: an important discovery.”17
Two thousand years of use as a weight control/blood sugar balancing treatment is a testament to both Gymnema’s effectiveness and safety. Numerous modern clinical studies with both have confirmed both safety and efficacy.18
Bitter melon is also a powerful metabolic syndrome fighter
A common ingredient in Thai cooking is also a powerful combatant in your battle against metabolic syndrome. Like the other supplements we’ve discussed, bitter melon (Momordica charantia) fights metabolic syndrome along a number of different metabolic pathways.
Clinical studies demonstrated bitter melon’s power to lower blood glucose in newly diagnosed adult diabetics by as much as 20-30% … before any other pharmaceutical treatment has been started.19
But its effectiveness as an antimetabolic syndrome agent doesn’t stop there. One study showed that rats given bitter melon drew fewer calories from their high fat food, had less visceral adipose tissue, lower blood glucose, and significantly reduced insulin resistance than un-supplemented rats.20
In another experiment reported by the same researchers, animals fed a high fat diet but given a bitter melon extract increased levels of adiponectin— the good protein hormone that plays a significant role in the prevention of metabolic syndrome.21
As a widely eaten food in Asia, bitter melon can be regarded as safe. However, combining bitter melon with standard anti-diabetic drugs may reduce blood sugar too well.22 For this reason, if you already take drugs for diabetes, you should add bitter melon to your diet only with a physician’s supervision.
Other important supplements
Other supplements that have shown promise for both diabetes and metabolic syndrome prevention include:
Coccinia Indica—also known as ivy gourd—has been used since ancient times as an anti-diabetic agent by Ayurvedic healers.23
Rhodiola Rosea Extract—an adaptogenic herb that increases the body’s resistance to stress, trauma, fatigue and anxiety; also shown to lower blood sugar.24
Vanadium—trace element highly effective in decreasing blood glucose and insulin levels, lowering blood pressure, reducing the severity of metabolic syndrome, and lowering serum cholesterol levels in animal and human studies.25
The importance of diet and lifestyle changes
We all know, at least intellectually, that a health supplement alone, or even a combination of health supplements, will not prevent the onset of metabolic syndrome.
While this article has focused on maintaining healthy blood sugar and body weight to ward off metabolic syndrome, the other symptoms of the disease, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol levels, must also be addressed.
That means diet and lifestyle factors—along with genetics—should also be considered. Eating a balanced diet and avoiding fast food and junk food is an important part of the fight against metabolic syndrome.
Regular exercise is also part of the equation. The sedentary lifestyle adopted by the majority of Americans is clearly one of the leading causes behind the staggering statistics mentioned earlier.
You can do it!
If you think about it, maintaining good health and avoiding metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and diabetes is actually pretty easy. It’s really a matter of making smart choices. And the rewards that come with these choices—living longer, healthier, pain free, and avoiding expensive medical bills—provide excellent motivation to make these smart choices.
Remember, you need not become a metabolic syndrome statistic. You can protect your health and win the fight against metabolic syndrome!