A Dietary Approach to Reversing Metabolic Syndrome

By Michael A. Smith, MD

We’re overweight, we eat too much sugar and fat, and we don’t exercise enough. Unhealthy lifestyles disrupt an otherwise-normal metabolism and create an overabundance of belly fat. When you put it all together, it’s called metabolic syndrome … and it’s killing us.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

More than 50 million Americans have metabolic syndrome, a term used to describe a collection of risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Experts agree it’s the average American lifestyle driving the epidemic. But this may actually be good news. If we got ourselves into this mess, then we should be able to get ourselves out of it.

Now, let’s take a look at the risk factors a little more closely. Basically, your doctor will “label” you metabolically sick if you have three or more of the following problems:

  • A large waist size — greater than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women.
  • Blood pressure that is 130/85 or higher.
  • HDL-cholesterol (the good stuff) less than 40 mg/dL in men and less than 50 mg/dL in women.
  • Triglycerides greater than 150 mg/dL.
  • Fasting blood glucose greater than 110 mg/dL.
We also believe that insulin resistance plays a significant role in the development of metabolic syndrome, specifically driving the elevation of blood sugar and the accumulation of belly fat.

Evidenced-based Nutrition for Treating Metabolic Syndrome

The nutrients that show promise in treating metabolic syndrome target belly fat, elevated sugar or insulin dysfunction. By correcting all three risk factors, you can expect to see major changes in your metabolic health. Better metabolic health translates into fewer heart attacks and strokes.

Let’s look at the evidence:

1. Fish Oil1,2

Fish oil activates the transcription factor PPAR-gamma, which causes belly fat to burn. PPAR-gamma also helps to maintain healthy blood sugar through multiple mechanisms.

2. Cinnamon3

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has shown that a water-soluble extract of cinnamon could help reduce risk factors long associated with diabetes and heart disease. The study involved 22 obese participants with elevated blood sugar. They were divided into two groups and either given a placebo or 250 milligrams of dried, water-soluble cinnamon extract twice daily with their diets. The study showed that water-soluble cinnamon extract improved several antioxidant variables by as much as 13% to 23%. These numbers led to decreases in fasting glucose.

3. Blueberries4

In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 32 obese, insulin-resistant adult men and women drank smoothies made with freeze-dried blueberry powder for 6 weeks. A placebo control group consumed smoothies without blueberry extracts. The blueberry group showed a statistically significant improvement in insulin sensitivity versus the placebo group.

4. Coffee5

Drinking 1 cup of coffee a day lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 7%, according to a review of 18 studies covering 500,000 people. Coffee contains chlorogenic acid which can inhbit the liver from producing too much sugar and slow down sugar absorption.

Six Healthy Lifestyle Steps for Metabolic Syndrome

So, here’s the lowdown in simple steps that you can easily follow. If more people simply took these steps, we would be significantly healthier and metabolic syndrome could be a thing of the past.

1. Eat less, probably half what you eat now.

2. Drink at least 1 cup of coffee every day.

3. Tone muscles with resistance exercises.

4. Eat fish 3–4 times a week, and eat dark fruits and vegetables daily.

5. Add spices like cinnamon and curcumin to food.

6. Consider the following daily supplements:

  • a. 2–4 grams of fish oil per day.
  • b. 250 mg of water-based cinnamon.
  • c. 500 mg of blueberry extract.
  • d. 200–400 mg of a green coffee bean extract.
What do you think? Do these steps seem reasonable to you?

References:

  1. Diabetes. 2006 Apr;55(4):924-8.
  2. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Feb;19(2):262-8. Epub 2010 Sep 2.
  3. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009;28:16-21.
  4. J Nutr. 2010 Oct;140(10):1764-8.
  5. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Dec 14;169(22):2053-63.

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13 comments:

Brian Hassel said...

While I don't doubt these natural supplements help, what about dietary changes? Even if one doesn't buy into the theory that carbohydrate over-consumption causes Syndrome X, it certainly seems logical that reducing blood glucose-spikes in someone who is IR would be priority one. Following that logic, severe reduction of carbohydrate sources (disaccharides/polysaccharides) would be beneficial.

Also, I've seen alpha lipoic acid mentioned in the past for its ability to increase insulin sensitivity (as well as being a potent antioxidant.)

David said...

I might rather say "strenuous exercise" in place of "resistance exercise" to include fast and uphill walking, running or biking, in addition to weights and resistance bands as "resistance exercise" usually implies. This also goes along with my skepticism about the anti-carb argument: No, I can't find any redeeming qualities to refined grains and sugars, but whole/sprouted grains and other whole carbs seem only to be a problem for those who avoid exercise. And to rigorously avoid carbs seems to pretty much insure that exercise gets left out of the program.

Life Extension said...

David, well said. Exercise is absolutely an important part of the equation!

Lane Goodberry said...

The bottom line on metabolic syndrome seems to be "control or stop it while you can." Kudos to Dr. Smith for advocating a dietary, rather than a prescription drug, approach.

Here's a link to an article about the symptoms of metabolic syndrome (with an infographic showing numbers to know). http://www.melaleucablog.com/what-does-metabolic-syndrome-feel-like/

Jim Jenks said...

Dr. Smith, thank you for writing about Metabolic Syndrome. The word needs to get out more about the true risk our world faces with all of the sugar in our diets these days.

PaleoCure said...

I exercise regularly and have for years but still struggle w blood sugar unless on strict low carb w moderate protein anf high fat.

Wendy
wendy@gopaleo.com
www.gopaleo.com

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing..

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

comes from Insulin Resistance and you forgot the most important thing which is a Low Carb Diet

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - Low carb diets are very important as well. Thanks for bringing this up!

Biotec Foods said...

One should consider the effects of excess estrogen (even some xenoestrogens, but mostly testosterone converted into estrogen from adipose fat via aromatase) and other negative effects of low testosterone levels in men, in contributing to metabolic syndrome. Phytoestrogens, curcumin, antioxidant enzymes and catalase can act as anti-inflammatories and even as aromatase inhibitors, thus reducing the effects of metabolic syndrome and its propensity to be self perpetuating. (e.g. adipose fat produces estrogen which produces adipose fat.)

LifeExtension said...

Biotec Foods - Good points!

Anonymous said...

Well most of it seems reasonable but the caffine is definetly out for me. Doctors told me no caffine. Be careful where you buy your herbs as most herbs contain ingredients that are not good for our digestion. e.g. wood fibre.

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