What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a group of medical conditions that includes high blood glucose, high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, low HDL levels (good cholesterol), and high triglycerides or cholesterol levels. When all these conditions occur together, it increases your risk of suffering from serious medical conditions like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. It is important to note that when you have one of these conditions, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have metabolic syndrome. For you to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you should have three or more of these conditions. Your risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases with age. The American Heart Association reports that 23% of adults have metabolic syndrome.

However, research shows that some people have a greater risk of developing this condition, including age, obesity, diabetes, race, and other diseases. Obesity is also linked to insulin resistance, which is known to be a risk factor of metabolic syndrome. Insulin resistance happens when the body is not able to respond properly to the effects of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps turn glucose into energy. Without insulin, glucose cannot enter the body cells hence, they stay in the bloodstream. This will lead to high blood glucose levels and increases the risk of suffering from metabolic syndrome. Luckily, metabolic syndrome can be managed through aggressive changes to your lifestyle.

Signs and symptoms of metabolic syndrome

Most of the medical disorders that are linked to metabolic syndrome have no signs and symptoms. Usually, it is diagnosed by taking into consideration the combined risk factors. Abdominal fat or a large waist circumference is a clear sign that you are at risk of suffering from metabolic syndrome. Abnormally high blood glucose is another sign. If you have high blood glucose, you may develop symptoms like increased thirst, hunger, and excessive urination. The following are other signs that can help your doctor identify if you have metabolic syndrome:

  • A triglyceride level of 150mg/dL or greater
  • A HDL cholesterol level of less than 40mg/dL in men or 50mg/dL in women.
  • Fasting glucose level of 100mg/dL or greater


There is no research to show what the exact cause of metabolic syndrome is. There are combinations of risk factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome. Some of the risk factors include the following:


Studies show that stress is one of the contributing factors to metabolic syndrome. This is because chronic stress can lead to a hormonal imbalance of the HPA axis (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis). If the HPA axis is not functioning properly, it can cause high levels of cortisol. This results in increased insulin and glucose levels. In turn, this can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome.


More and more research verifies the number of people affects by metabolic syndrome is increasing because of the rise of obesity rates. Central obesity is especially a key factor that leads to extra weight around the abdomen. This often leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is linked to increased risk of metabolic syndrome.

Unhealthy lifestyle

An unhealthy lifestyle includes lack of physical activity and eating processed foods, and can lead to increased risk of having metabolic syndrome. Sedentary lifestyle can result in low HDL levels, increased blood pressure, and increased adipose tissue. All these factors can contribute to the risk of having metabolic syndrome.


Studies show that up to 50% of adults over the age of 60 have metabolic syndrome.


If you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you can adopt lifestyle changes to help control your medical conditions. Your health-care provider may prescribe drugs to treat individual components like blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Here are lifestyle changes that can help manage metabolic syndrome:

Quit smoking

Smoking increases your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. You can speak to your doctor on how you can quit smoking.


Lack of physical activity can lead to risk of having metabolic syndrome. At least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day can improve your health. This can include walking rather than driving, or using the staircase instead of the elevator.

Lose weight

Being obese predisposes you to many health complications, including metabolic syndrome. Losing weight can reduce your blood pressure and decrease the risk of having diabetes. Weight loss also makes your body more sensitive to insulin.

Eat healthy

That means avoiding unhealthy fat and processed food, and including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats to your diet.

Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.