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Weight Gain, Cravings and Cholesterol Issues: Could It Be Syndrome X?

November 6, 2009

thin person It may sound like something out of the latest science fiction   blockbuster, but Syndrome X is not some super-villain dreamed up in a Hollywood studio. It’s a very real health condition we should all take seriously. Medical experts estimate that as many as one in three Americans live with Syndrome X and its potential consequences.

Here are a few of the most common symptoms:

* Weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area, that doesn’t budge with diet and/or exercise

* Post-meal fatigue

* Cravings for sweets and carbohydrates

* Increases in triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure

* Unhealthy good/bad cholesterol ratio

Individually, none of these symptoms are cause for alarm, even though they’re not beneficial to anyone’s health. But when most or all of them occur simultaneously, Syndrome X is most likely to blame. And that means an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other complications.

If those symptoms look familiar, don’t panic  — there’s plenty that can be done to turn Syndrome X around. The best place to begin is with an overview of what the condition is and how it develops.

Syndrome X, also known as metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, signals difficulties with the body’s ability to use insulin efficiently. Insulin is the hormone charged with regulating how our bodies metabolize fat, sugar and protein. Insulin is a multi-tasker. Its primary goal is to keep a lid on blood sugar levels, because excessive blood sugar can wreak havoc throughout the body and in the brain. To do that, insulin signals the brain when it’s time to stop eating, and it also acts like a traffic cop, directing food to the cells and telling them what to do with it.

When all systems are in working order, we eat a meal, and then the pancreas releases a measured amount of insulin into the bloodstream, nutrients are distributed appropriately and all’s well. But when the process goes awry, fat storage fails and blood sugar monitoring goes haywire.  Insulin hits the bloodstream, but the cells ignore it and blood sugar levels remain high. The pancreas secretes more insulin, hoping to correct the situation. But that too fails. Many of the cells’ insulin receptor sites have been wiped out. The end results: rising triglyceride levels and food that should have been converted to energy stored as fat instead. If the process continues, type 2 diabetes may develop.

But why do cells resist insulin in the first place?  The simple answer is overload, due to a diet with too much sugar and carbohydrates. Ideally, the pancreas releases a limited amount of insulin, only enough to process blood sugar. But when it’s faced with a barrage of sugary beverages and simple carbohydrates from processed and junk foods, the pancreas goes into overdrive, ramping up production of insulin in a desperate attempt to keep up.

Although it’s being seen in younger and younger people these days, Syndrome X is normally a condition that develops over time, after years of bad eating habits and sugar indulgence. Of course, if you’ve ever looked at the fine print on food labels, you know that sugar comes in many forms and can be found in the most unlikely places, including things like salad dressing, prepared pasta sauces and bread.

Sugar can’t take all the blame, though. Simple carbohydrates, especially those found in starchy, processed foods also contribute to the problem. (Just to clarify the carbohydrate issue, keep in mind that the worst offenders are those found in fast food and junk snacks. Fruits and other healthy foods also contain simple carbs, but they also supply loads of nutrients and fiber.)

Artificial sweeteners play a role in the development of Syndrome X, too. Products like NutraSweet™, as well as those made with sucrose, a popular sugar substitute consisting of fructose and glucose, rob the body of chromium, a trace mineral that supports insulin’s functions and maximize its effectiveness. And here’s a frightening fact: sucrose accounts for somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the calories eaten by the typical American.  No wonder Syndrome X is on the rise!

What can you do to avoid or reverse Syndrome X? Plenty! For starters, here are some suggestions from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

  • Aim for a body-mass index (BMI) below 25 (calculate yours here) . Talk to your doctor about healthy ways to do this.
  • Watch your waistline! Women should keep the measuring tape at 35 inches or less, and men need to stay under 40 inches.
  • Build your diet around low-fat, high-fiber foods, non-starchy vegetables and lean protein.
  • Make exercise part of your day, every day (with your physician’s okay first, of course). Choose activities you enjoy – yoga, dancing, walking, swimming, biking or whatever is fun, interesting or makes you feel good. The goal is to make movement part of each day, not some temporary measure just to lose weight.
  • Visit your doctor regularly,  so that you can stay on top of changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar, and make appropriate adjustments to your regimen.

With reasonable lifestyle changes, you can restore healthy blood sugar levels, lose weight, avoid catastrophic health complications and say good-bye to Syndrome X.

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