What is Metabolic Syndrome? Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

March 1, 2019

The simplest way to look at all these associations, between obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and Alzheimer’s (not to mention the other conditions that are also associated with obesity and diabetes, such as gout, asthma, and fatty liver disease), is that what makes us fat – the quality and quantity of carbohydrates we consume –

also makes us sick.

Gary Taubes

Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of disorders that increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Patients who have these conditions together face greater odds of developing future cardiovascular disease than any single factor alone. Nearly a quarter of the adult population is living with metabolic syndrome – a serious concern when considering the life-threatening complications with which it’s associated. [1]

Moreover, the number of individuals with metabolic syndrome increases with age, making it a particular concern for adults in their middle ages and older. More than 40% of people in their 60s and 70s have the condition, though age isn’t the only factor correlated with increased risk. [2]

To help you better understand your risk and develop an effective prevention plan, this guide examines the causes and complications of metabolic syndrome. We’ll also explore treatments for individuals who have already been diagnosed, thereby helping to prevent life-threatening cardiovascular events.

How Is Metabolic Syndrome Diagnosed?

The cluster of conditions comprising metabolic syndrome includes obesity, high blood pressure, and a trend toward insulin resistance, among others.

Clinical Diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome

A clinical diagnosis of the condition is given when a patient exhibits three or more of the following criteria: 

  • Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater
  • Systolic blood pressure of 130 mm HG or greater; or, diastolic blood pressure of 85 mm HG or greater (also the criteria for hypertension stage 1)
  • HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women
  • Triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or greater
  • Abdominal obesity, defined as a waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men, or 35 inches or more for women [3]

Having a single one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome; likewise, it’s also possible to have metabolic syndrome without exhibiting all of the above signs. For example, some patients who do not meet BMI criteria for obesity have metabolic syndrome. Ultimately, having any one of these conditions can increase the risk of serious disease, and having more than one likely increases risk even more.

What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

The primary underlying causes of metabolic syndrome are being overweight or obese and leading a sedentary life. In addition to weight and physical inactivity, aging also contributes to the disorder. Genetic factors, such as ethnicity and family history, may also play a role. [4] Thus, while some of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome are controllable, others are not.

One other important, and oftentimes controllable, factor for the condition is insulin resistance. Insulin sensitivity is one of the most important markers of overall health. The hormone insulin regulates blood sugar levels; thus, when the body fails to respond to insulin as it should, sugar builds up in the blood.

Insulin resistance typically precedes diabetes and metabolic syndrome but often does not exhibit any symptoms. High glycemic index foods, including carbohydrates and especially processed varieties, may contribute to insulin resistance. [5]

What are Additional Risk Factors of Metabolic Syndrome?

Mature woman having blood pressure checked by nurse in doctor’s office for metabolic syndrome

The causes behind metabolic syndrome listed above tend to act together. Beyond these underlying causes, however, there are also some shared characteristics researchers have observed among many patients with metabolic syndrome: excessive blood clotting and constant and low-grade inflammation.

It is presently unclear whether these conditions play a role in the disease’s development or whether they worsen it. Additionally, researchers are also studying other factors which may contribute to metabolic syndrome, including:

Additionally, a family or personal history of diabetes faces an increased risk for diabetes. Women are also more likely to develop the condition compared to men, as are Mexican Americans compared to Caucasians and African Americans. [7]

With these causes and risk factors in mind, let’s explore some of the reasons why preventing and controlling metabolic syndrome is so important.

What are the Dangers of Metabolic Syndrome?

Complications of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes

Many metabolic risk factors exhibit no signs or symptoms. While being overweight or obese is an obvious sign, factors like high blood pressure often go unnoticed. For this reason, metabolic syndrome is especially dangerous.

Having metabolic syndrome increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, the condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries. This causes hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels, which typically precedes heart attack or stroke. It also elevates risk for developing type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition with its own host of possible complications including nerve, kidney, and eye damage, among others. [8]

Nonetheless, being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome doesn’t mean you’re destined for serious illness or cardiovascular events. In fact, many of the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome can be combated with lifestyle adjustments, medications, and other forms of treatment, if needed.

How do you Treat for Metabolic Syndrome?

When treating metabolic syndrome, the primary objective is to address the most serious concerns first. This encompasses reducing the risk for ischemic heart disease, in which the heart arteries are narrowed, and preventing or controlling type 2 diabetes. [9]

Typically, treatments for metabolic syndrome are first directed at controlling cholesterol and high blood pressure, which may necessitate the use of medications depending on the patient’s levels. With that said, lifestyle changes are of equal importance for improving health over a long-term basis.

Some of the behavioral changes patients with metabolic syndrome are encouraged to make include smoking cessation, adopting healthy stress management practices, and achieving and maintaining healthy body composition. This is supported by both physical activity and heart-healthy eating.

What is the Best Diet for Metabolic Syndrome?

Businessman eating a pre-packaged salad while standing in office, a great diet or metabolic syndrome

Diet is one of the most important factors for controlling and preventing metabolic syndrome but also for supporting health overall. Thus, the optimal diet for metabolic syndrome patients is built on sensible healthy eating practices the population as a whole should follow. This includes avoiding simple, refined carbohydrates.

Minimizing carbohydrate intake can help individuals lose weight and improve blood sugar control while also contributing to the prevention of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. [10]

The most practical way to avoid simple carbohydrates is to steer clear of processed foods including bread, baked goods, desserts, and packaged snacks. White bread, rice, pasta, and flour are also considered processed carbohydrates.

Beyond carbohydrates, individuals with metabolic syndrome should also avoid trans fats. In fact, trans fats should be avoided even in patients without any metabolic risk factors as they are linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. [11]​

Trans fats are found in margarine, packaged cookies, deep-fried foods, frozen snack foods like pizzas and French fries as well as frozen dinners, crackers, nondairy creamers, and cake mixes and frosting, among other sources.

Diet for Individuals with High Blood Pressure

For anyone with high blood pressure, reducing sodium intake may also be advised. In this case, soy sauce, canned foods, table salt, prepared pasta sauces, certain types of cheese, cured meats, and salty snack foods should be avoided.

In addition to avoiding certain foods, a healthy diet for metabolic syndrome should also prioritize certain elements of nutrition. Lean protein sources and vegetables are among the healthiest options for controlling the set of conditions. Fiber-rich foods, including beans, fresh vegetables, and fruit can aid in regulating blood sugar and cholesterol. [12]

Other essential nutrients, including potassium and omega-3 fatty acids, also help to support heart health. Grapefruit, black beans, tomatoes, yogurt, and collard greens are rich sources of potassium, while flax seeds, olive oil, avocados, and many types of nuts are high in healthy fats.

Understanding Metabolic Syndrome – In Conclusion

Even with the dietary guidelines listed in the previous section, preventing and controlling metabolic syndrome can seem daunting. The questions of exactly what to eat and when, how to structure a heart-safe yet effective fitness routine, and when and whether further treatments should be implemented loom over patients who are at risk or have been diagnosed with one or more of the conditions making up metabolic syndrome.

With the primary goal of reducing the risk for serious disease in adults, Cenegenics helps patients prevent or control metabolic syndrome through our comprehensive approach to wellness. Upon joining our program, each patient undergoes rigorous testing to indicate any specific health concerns, including those that exist presently as well as those the patient is at risk of developing down the road.

This gives our physicians, nutrition and exercise specialists, and additional clinicians the guidance needed to craft a highly personalized wellness map incorporating dietary and fitness recommendations as well as any nutraceuticals or medications as needed. We then take an agile approach to maintain continuous improvement, optimizing all aspects of health to prevent or control the disease for a better quality of life both now and into the future.

If you’re interested in learning how Cenegenics can help you control or prevent the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome, find a center near you to get started.

Next Steps in Managing Metabolic Syndrome

Our world-class physicians create a personalized plan to help you feel 10+ years younger. You’ll be more energetic, lose weight, sleep better, have more libido, and think more clearly. Visit our website for more information, as well as to book your free consultation.



[1] American Heart Association. “About Metabolic Syndrome.” 31 Jul. 2016. Retrieved from URL: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome/about-metabolic-syndrome

[2] Cleveland Clinic. “Metabolic Syndrome.” 11 Feb 2015. Retrieved from URL: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10783-metabolic-syndrome

[3] American Heart Association; see above.

[4] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). “Metabolic Syndrome.” Retrieved from URL: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome

[5] Leake, Jeffrey Park, M.D., CPT, and Greenberg, Todd David, M.D., CSCS. Textbook of Age Management Medicine: Volume 1. Leake-Greenberg Ventures, 2015. p. 25.

[6] NHLBI; see above.

[7] NHLBI; see above.

[8] Mayo Clinic. “Metabolic Syndrome.” 06 Mar. 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916

[9] NHLBI; see above.

[10] Iftikhar, Noreen, MD. Healthline. “Metabolic Syndrome Diet.” Retrieved from URL: https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome-diet#foods-to-avoid

[11] Iftikhar, Noreen, MD; see above.

[12] Iftikhar, Noreen, MD; see above.

Contributor: Rudy Inaba Vice President of Health Performance

Rudy Inaba is Cenegenics’ Vice President of Health Performance. He is a recognized fitness and sports nutrition consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in clinical exercise physiology and lifestyle management. After pursuing his Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Rudy joined Cenegenics where he leads 19 clinical locations nationwide in their advancements in kinesiology, nutritional biochemistry, and their analyses of industry research & market trending.

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