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Throw around the term Metabolic Syndrome and you’ll likely be met with puzzled expressions, but this condition is extremely common. Metabolic Syndrome affects an estimated two-thirds of all Americans and its rates are on the rise.Developing Metabolic Syndrome puts one at greater risk of a multitude of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and particularly adult onset diabetes. In fact, Metabolic Syndrome is often referred to as pre-diabetes. Now the good news! This condition and its symptoms are in your control – very preventable and reversible; all it takes is the right approach. Start with healthy and delicious meals, add in a few nutritional supplements for extra support, and get a bit of light, fun exercise on the regular.
The term Metabolic Syndrome refers to the condition that includes insulin resistance and one or more of the following cluster of symptoms: glucose (sugar) intolerance, excess abdominal weight (a “spare tire” around the middle), high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, and high blood cholesterol levels.
When grains, carbohydrates and sugars are eaten, they trigger a rapid increase in blood sugar, and the body responds by raising levels of insulin (the blood sugar storage hormone produced by the pancreas). The more insulin-triggering foods that are consumed, the more the body pumps out insulin to deal with the extra blood sugar. Eventually, insulin resistance develops, which is when the cellsbecome overwhelmed by the amount of insulin and become sluggish in response to it.7,8
Excess insulin production promotes increases in blood fats, blood pressure, and fat storage. Essentially, insulin resistance is the underlying cause of the symptoms listed above.7 Not only is Metabolic Syndrome closely linked to the beginning stages of adult onset diabetes and heart disease, it generates high levels of cell-damaging free radicals and accelerates biological aging.1,2,3,7 This can contribute to any kind of symptom, illness, or degenerative disease. This is important to understand since the implications of an out-of-whack insulin/glucose system opens the doors to all kinds of malfunctions in the body. It is now being recognized that insulin is the key to a vast majority of
chronic illnesses. Some early warning signs on the fast track to developing Metabolic Syndrome include extra weight around the waist; frequent cravings for sweets, breads and other carbohydrates; and tiredness or sleepiness after meals.4
The general dietary outline for preventing and reversing this condition is focused on whole, unrefined foods; this means quality proteins, healthy fats and plenty of vegetables. Strict limitation or avoidance of refined carbohydrates, grains and sugars is essential to preventing and reversing Metabolic Syndrome due to the effect that these foods have on blood sugar and insulin levels.5,6 Examples of quality foods to include in meals or snacks are low-carb vegetables, nuts and seeds, wild cold-water fish, unrefined oils, free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, game meats, chemical-free poultry, and fermented dairy products. What is the difference between low-carb and high-carb vegetables? Usually the low-carb varieties are higher in fiber and contain more water, like spinach, cucumber, peppers, cabbage and kale, while the high-carb veggies are starchier like peas, potatoes, yams, and winter squash.
The number one dietary goal is to eliminate refined carbohydrates, the main insulin-triggering foods. Processed and strippedofeverythingnatural, refined carbohydrates lead the pack of contributing factors to Metabolic Syndrome.7 The foods that fall into this category make up approximately 90% of convenience-type foods like breads, pastas, muffins, cookies, sodas, and pretzels. One important fact to keep in mind: white rice and white flour are no better than pure white sugar because the body reacts to them in essentially the same way. These foods are damaging to the body and should be avoided at all costs. Jack Challem, co-author of the book Syndrome X (an earlier name for Metabolic Syndrome) explains, “Given the fact that people did not historically eat highly-refined carbohydrates, and that the human body is not designed for the glucose (sugar) ‘rush’created by such foods, it is not surprising that people easily become intolerant to glucose. It is only normal to be intolerant to something that leads to sickness.”
Although complex carbohydrates (grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables) are released into the bloodstream more slowly than simple carbohydrates (i.e. flours & sugars), they still break down into sugars in the body. Many people, particularly those with Metabolic Syndrome, are sensitive to these types of carbohydrates as well because they trigger an insulin response.8 In addition, grains and legumes contain a variety of anti-nutrients and damaging proteins that can cause intestinal dysfunction, inflammation and an immune response. Therefore, grains and legumes should be eliminated from the diet, and starchy vegetables should be limited to meet your energy requirements.
Do not be shy with healthy protein and fat. These nutrients are necessary for the body to function optimally and are critical for the hormonal system to control blood sugar balance.9 Choose clean animal proteins over vegetarian sources, such as beans, since the latter raise blood sugar and insulin levels significantly higher than meat.10 Although beans contain fiber and nutrients, most are largely composed of carbohydrates. For example, lentils, kidney, navy, mung, and pinto beans all contain somewhere between 70% and 75% carbohydrate.11 Also, be sure to consume healthy, undamaged fats found in unrefined oils (like extra virgin olive, coconut, and sesame seed), organic butter, free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, avocados, nuts, and seeds.9 Research indicates that people with adult onset diabetes who consume diets rich in monounsaturated fats (such as those found in nuts, olive oil, and avocados) have a more desirable serum glucose, lipid, and insulin profile than do those who consume diets rich in carbohydrates.12,13,14
Minimize omega-6-rich vegetable oils, such as corn, sunflower, soy, and safflower, as well as grain-fed animal products. An excess intake of omega-6 fatty acids has been linked to an increase in pre-diabetic conditions with more insulin resistance, higher weight, and higher blood lipids. 15 Also, strictly avoid deep-fried food and damaged fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, overly-heated oils, and commercially-processed oils. These damaged fats dramatically increase one’s risk of heart disease and contribute to overall body malfunction.7 Finally, stick with water and herbal teas and avoid soda, processed beveragesand alcohol.
The right supplement program provides the essential nutrients to support healthy levels of blood sugar and insulin. Consider some of the following nutrients in addition to a high-quality multiple vitamin and mineral.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is a vitamin-like nutrient that improves blood sugar metabolism. It also improves insulin sensitivity, lowers glucose and insulin levels, improves blood flow to peripheral nerves, supports nerve function, and stimulates regeneration of nerve fibers.16,17, 18,19 Lipoic acid is also a powerful antioxidant, which helps counter the harmful effects of the excess free radical production caused by this condition. For prevention for the healthy person, 50 to 100 mg should be sufficient. However, to help correct glucose intolerance and Metabolic Syndrome, one may need closer to 300 mg daily.7,20
Chromium, an essential trace element, is required for normal insulin functioning and can increase insulin sensitivity.21,22,23 It is estimated that 90% of U.S. residents do not receive adequate amounts of chromium from their diet. In fact, the symptoms of chromium deficiency are the same as the symptoms associated with Metabolic Syndrome.7,24,25 Foods rich in chromium include brewer’s yeast as well asgrains, though most of it is lost when these foods are refined. If you have symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome or if the associated conditions run inyour family, it may be best to increase the supplemental amount to 400 to 800 mcg daily.7
Fish Oils have been found to support almost all body functions, including insulin receptor responsiveness. 26,27 Some studies have also found that omega-3 fish oil improves glucose tolerance.28,29 Cod liver oil may be the best choice since it contains preformed vitamin A, andthose with insulin imbalance have a reduced ability to convert beta-carotene into vitamin A in the body.30 Consider supplementing with around 3000 mg fish oil per day.
L-Glutamine is a sugar-fighting amino acid that can reduce cravings for sweets, starches, and alcohol. Itworks by preventing the brain from dropping into the low blood sugar, “must-eat-candy-right-now” feelings. When the brain is low in glucose (blood sugar), it can burn glutamine instead. Follow the directions on the bottle or consider two 500 mg capsules three times per day between meals. For quick relief of cravings, try placing 500 mg of powder under the tongue.9
Carnitine helps improve fat metabolism, which is often deranged in this condition, and may help with weight loss. Carnitine may help insulin work better and keep insulin levels lower. It is especially important in promoting healthy carbohydrate metabolism in the heart. Try supplementing 1,000 to 4,000 mg daily.31
Milk Thistle and its active ingredient, silymarin, have a long history of liver support. Since the liver plays an important role in maintaining normal blood sugar levels, improving its function is critical to Metabolic Syndrome. One large-scale study showed that those taking silymarin experienced a significant drop in their blood sugar levels, as well as a significant reduction in insulin resistance.32
Other important nutrients include vitamin C, which may help lower glucose levels as well as prevent the glycosylation of proteins (the dangerous combination of sugar and proteins that can lead to bodily damage). It also helps counteract the effects of stress, which can lead to poorly-functioning adrenal glands and contribute to low blood sugar-like symptoms.33,34 Vitamin E improves insulin action and reduces protein glycosylation.35,36,37 Finally, magnesium improves insulin sensitivity38 and zinc is involved in all aspects of insulin metabolism.39
Regular moderate exercise greatly improves blood sugar balance. Exercise helps build muscle.
Muscle cells are where insulin is most active and where most glucose is burned for energy. Since exercise, particularly resistance training, builds muscle, it helps increase one’s ability to burn glucose. Physical activity also burns glucose and helps the body work more efficiently. Studies show that simply going for a daily walk can greatly improve the body’s ability to process blood sugar effectively and can reduce insulin resistance.40 Mix up your routine; try walking, hiking, biking, yoga, and resistance training. Keep it light and fun.
Another reason to get adequate sleep. A chronic lack of sleep may reduce insulin sensitivity. A recentstudy compared healthy adults who averaged 5.2 hours of sleep to those who averaged 8 hours. The short sleepers secreted 50% more insulin than their well-rested counterparts and were 40% less sensitive to insulin.41
By implementing a healthy diet and lifestyle, you can successfully prevent or reverse the sneaky, prevalent condition known as Metabolic Syndrome. Stick with a hunter/gatherer-type diet plan that emphasizes fresh, whole foods, naturally-raised proteins and healthy fats. Avoid grains, legumes and sugars in favor of more healthful foods. In addition, be sure to take in adequate blood-balancing nutrients and protective antioxidants. Lastly, make some healthy lifestyle changes; focus on getting regular, fun exercise and adequate sleep. Follow this prescription for health and you’ll be on the fast track to losing weight and preventing a host of chronic illnesses.
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