Published On: Sun, Jul 15th, 2018

Where Fat Matters: Growing Waist Lines Risk Metabolic Syndrome

The American obesity epidemic is old news; as of 2016, the CDC reports that nearly 40% of Americans are obese. What most people don’t understand, though, is that not all obesity is created equal. While being overweight is never good for your health, there are significant differences between traditional obesity and a sub-type known as metabolic syndrome.

People with metabolic syndrome experience at least three of the following five symptoms: a large waistline (35 inches or more in women and 40 inches or more in men), high triglycerides, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar. In other words, if you have enough other symptoms, you can have metabolic syndrome and not be obese. This is the case for over 20% of Americans – they have normal BMIs but are metabolically unhealthy.

photo courtesy of Fit Pundit

Whether or not an individual is overweight or obese, obesity and metabolic syndrome are closely connected, and many of the same strategies used to fight obesity can help reverse metabolic syndrome as well. A comprehensive campaign should address these three risk factors to enhance population health.

The Microbiota

From overconsumption of processed foods to improper use of antibiotics, there are a number of factors contributing to the depletion and damage to our microbiota – the population of helpful bacteria that live in our GI system, on our skin, and elsewhere. Gut microbiota, in particular, is vital to population health, and loss of health-enhancing bacteria can compromise immunity, metabolism, and even behavioral health. So how do can people improve their GI health?

Probiotic supplements can reintroduce some healthy bacteria to the gut, but they typically only contain a limited variety of bacteria, and the body may not be prepared to support them. A better approach is to encourage people to eat more prebiotic and probiotic foods. Prebiotic foods like garlic, onion, oats, and apples encourage the growth of healthy bacteria that then make it easier for probiotics to colonize the GI system. Without prebiotics, probiotic foods like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi are less effective.

Approaches To Fitness

Obviously physical activity is vital to weight loss, but it also plays a role in changing the metabolic profile in those with metabolic syndrome who may not need to lose weight – and some workouts are more effective than others. In a study of individuals with metabolic syndrome, researchers compared resistance training, moderate intensity continuous exercise training, high-intensity interval training, and high-intensity interval resistance training; all four helped minimize metabolic syndrome risk factors. On close inspection, though, only the two forms of resistance training helped increase lean body mass.

Increase in lean body mass is vital for those with metabolic syndrome because when your body has more muscle, your metabolism speeds up. That means you burn more calories, even when your body is at rest, and you lose weight more quickly. It’s a catch-22 for overweight individuals, which is why emphasizing resistance training is so important for fighting metabolic syndrome and obesity.

Sleep Hygiene

Finally, poor sleep habits are closely associated with obesity, and the connection goes both ways. People who don’t get enough sleep tend to eat more and gain weight, while people who are overweight are prone to obstructive sleep apnea and experience daytime sleepiness and increased appetite due to hormonal changes. They’re also more likely to suffer from hypertension, one of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

People with obstructive sleep apnea can improve their sleep quality and overall health by using a CPAP machine, a device that helps individuals maintain positive airway pressure while asleep. This improves sleep quality and can actually reverse metabolic changes. Additionally, those with metabolic syndrome or who are obese should be tested for other sleep disorders and be treated as appropriate.

Obesity and metabolic syndrome aren’t as simple as calories in versus calories out; rather, it typically involves a more complex array of health issues, including sleep disorders and GI health. By providing patients with comprehensive care that assesses all three of these factors, however, we can dramatically improve community health and help shift people’s metabolic baselines back to normal.

Author: Anna Johansson

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