What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It affects one in five people, and prevalence increases with age. Some studies estimate the prevalence in the USA to be up to 25% of the population.

Metabolic syndrome is also known as metabolic syndrome X, syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome, Reaven's syndrome, and CHAOS (Australia). A similar condition in overweight horses is referred to as equine metabolic syndrome; it is unknown if they have the same etiology.

The exact mechanisms of the complex pathways of metabolic syndrome are not yet completely known. The pathophysiology is extremely complex and has been only partially elucidated. Most patients are older, obese, sedentary, and have a degree of insulin resistance. Stress can also be a contributing factor. The most important factors are:

  1. weight
  2. genetics
  3. stress
  4. aging
  5. sedentary lifestyle, i.e., low physical activity and excess caloric intake.

There is debate regarding whether obesity or insulin resistance is the ''cause'' of the metabolic syndrome or if they are consequences of a more far-reaching metabolic derangement. A number of markers of systemic inflammation, including C-reactive protein, are often increased, as are fibrinogen, interleukin 6 (IL–6), Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα), and others. Some have pointed to a variety of causes including increased uric acid levels caused by dietary fructose.

It is common for there to be a development of visceral fat, after which the adipocytes (fat cells) of the visceral fat increase plasma levels of TNFα and alter levels of a number of other substances (e.g., adiponectin, resistin, PAI-1). TNFα has been shown not only to cause the production of inflammatory cytokines but possibly to trigger cell signaling by interaction with a TNFα receptor that may lead to insulin resistance . An experiment with rats that were fed a diet one-third of which was sucrose has been proposed as a model for the development of the metabolic syndrome. The sucrose first elevated blood levels of triglycerides, which induced visceral fat and ultimately resulted in insulin resistance . The progression from visceral fat to increased TNFα to insulin resistance has some parallels to human development of metabolic syndrome.

Further Reading


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