Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Jasmyn Walker, MS, RD, CSO, CNSC, LD,

Metabolic syndrome: The signs, why it matters, what you can do

blog metabolic syndrome

This summer, 1 in 3 American adults woke up to a diagnosis: obesity. The American Medical Association made the surprising decision in June to classify obesity as a disease. But is weight the only important marker of good health?

Metabolic syndrome may be more revealing, but it's not often diagnosed properly. Metabolic syndrome refers to factors that raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. It also has been linked to colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer and possibly uterine cancer.

Being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome means you have any three of the following traits:

  • Abdominal obesity: A waist circumference of 40 inches or more for a man and 35 inches or more for a woman.
  • Serum triglycerides: 150 mg/dL or higher, or drug treatment for elevated triglycerides
  • Serum HDL cholesterol: Less than 40 mg/dL in men and less than 50 mg/dL in women, or drug treatment for low HDL, which is the "good" cholesterol that helps fight heart disease
  • Blood pressure: 130/85 mmHg or higher, or drug treatment for elevated blood pressure
  • Fasting blood glucose: 100 mg/dL or higher, or drug treatment for elevated blood glucose

It's important to know your numbers. Anyone actively fighting cancer or trying to prevent it should talk to a physician or clinician about ways to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Your primary care physician should check these numbers routinely.

One way to reduce your risk is to eat the right type of carbohydrates. Pay close attention to glycemic index and glycemic load. Glycemic index (GI) is a simple measure of how foods containing carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels.

The GI of a food depends on how quickly the body digests and absorbs carbohydrates. I recommend looking at glycemic load, which considers the amount of carbohydrates in a typical serving in addition to the food's glycemic index. Glycemic load offers a more balanced view of how a normal serving of a particular food will affect blood sugar.

Foods with a high glycemic load include simple carbohydrates such as white flour, white sugar, white potatoes, candies or sodas. Foods with a low glycemic load are those rich in fiber, such as whole grains, beans and apples. A low glycemic load diet can reduce blood glucose levels and the amount of insulin resistance in the body. Nutrition therapy is especially important for cancer patients.

Increasing physical activity also can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Physical activity can lead to weight loss and reduce lipid levels. Aim for at least 60 minutes of exercise five days a week. Exercise is critical for post-menopausal women.

It is important to feel empowered and take action to prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Get your numbers today!