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Do I Have Metabolic Disease? (And What to Do About it)

By Jacquelyn Buffo, MS, LPC, CAADC

January 05, 2024

Metabolic Syndrome

Our metabolism is responsible for many bodily functions. You probably have a general understanding of metabolism as it is often used in referencing weight loss or weight gain. When our metabolism is compromised, metabolic diseases and metabolic syndrome can develop. Metabolic syndrome can result in several serious health consequences. This article focuses on metabolic diseases and metabolic syndrome, risk factors for developing them, protective factors that can reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, as well as strategies that can help reduce your risk for developing metabolic syndrome.

Metabolism defined

By definition, your metabolism is the way that your body obtains energy from the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins you consume from the environment. The body uses the energy to perform essential functions like breathing and digestion.

Additionally, the body uses energy to:

  • Circulate blood throughout the body
  • Regulate body temperature
  • Contracting muscles (physical movement)
  • Eliminate waste from the body
  • Perform neurological functions (brain activity)

Your body determines whether or not to use the energy immediately or to store it in various organs like the liver, body fat, and muscles to be used later.

Metabolism is unique to each person and is dependent upon lifestyle and other factors such as:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Nutrition and diet
  • Exercise
  • Race
  • Medical status (having underlying diseases like cancer or sepsis)

The rate of energy production is referred to as basal metabolic rate, and for this piece, it is going to be referred to as metabolism.

Metabolic disease defined

A metabolic disorder occurs when irregular chemical reactions in the body disrupt the process. There are different groups of metabolic disorders including:

  • Amino acids: Your body has trouble breaking down amino acids in the body which results in a buildup of harmful substances.
  • Lipids: Lipids are fat or fatty substances in the body and when enzymes are unable to break down lipids in the body, they build up over time which can result in damage to cells, tissue, the brain, liver, and spleen; the health outcomes can be severe.
  • Carbohydrates: When carbohydrates aren’t broken down in the body as a result of enzyme dysfunction, dangerous amounts of sugar can build up in the body which can result in serious health consequences and even be fatal.
  • Mitochondrial: Mitochondria are small entities that produce energy in the cells of your body. When mitochondria become defective, they are unable to produce enough energy which results in oxygen buildup in the cells and can cause damage to the body.

A metabolic disorder occurs when dysfunctional chemical processes in the body occur and impair the body’s ability to effectively convert foods, nutrients, and fats into energy. When various organs in the body become damaged and fail to function properly, you can develop a metabolic disorder and a prime example of this is diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of conditions (3 or more) that occur together that raise your risk of serious health conditions including:

  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease

Symptoms of metabolic syndrome

Not everyone who has a metabolic disorder will develop metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome involves 3 or more co-occurring conditions that can impact your health and increase your risk for health problems.

If you think you may have metabolic syndrome, you can look out for signs and symptoms. You may have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the following symptoms:

  • High blood pressure: Having chronically high blood pressure can result in damage to blood vessels and your heart and can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries; this can result in stroke or heart attack.
  • Low HDL Cholesterol: Known as the “good” cholesterol, having low HDL levels can prevent your body from expelling bad cholesterol, which can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries.
  • High triglycerides in your blood: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood and high levels of triglycerides can raise your levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), which can increase your risk for heart disease.
  • High blood sugar levels: High blood sugar levels can cause damage to your blood vessels which can result in blood clots—a condition that can be fatal.
  • A large waistline: Commonly referred to as having an “apple shape” to your body, accumulating extra fat in your stomach is a greater risk factor for heart disease than accumulating fat anywhere else on the body.

Risk factors for metabolic syndrome

Certain risk factors can make you more vulnerable to developing metabolic syndrome. Some risk factors are static and unchangeable while others are preventable. Risk factors are mutually influential on one another, so having a certain risk factor can make you more vulnerable to other risk factors. For example, eating a diet high in sugar can not only impact your blood sugar levels but can also increase accumulated fat near the stomach.

One of the biggest risk factors for metabolic syndrome is your weight. Excess fat in the stomach can increase your level of fatty acids, which in turn can increase other chemicals and hormones in the body that are responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. This can result in insulin resistance, which occurs when the body is unable to doesn’t respond to insulin. This is an example of the chain reaction that occurs within the body when an element within the body isn’t functioning properly.

Additional risk factors for metabolic syndrome include:

  • Age: Your risk increases as you age.
  • Genetic predisposition.
  • Family history: You have an increased risk if others in your family have risk factors for metabolic syndrome, have diabetes, or have any other risk factor for metabolic syndrome.
  • Food quantity: Consuming large portions of food.
  • Diet: Consuming foods high in fat and sugar.
  • Sleep problems: Sleep apnea and inadequate sleep can increase your risk.
  • Being physically inactive.
  • Working the night shift at a job as it disrupts your circadian rhythm and disrupts your sleep patterns.
  • Low socioeconomic status: This often results in poor diet, sleep problems, and physical inactivity.
  • Having certain medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), obesity, and compromised immune system.
  • Cancer treatments: Certain cancer treatments can weaken the immune system which increases your risk.
  • Medications: Certain medications used to treat allergies as well as mental and physical health disorders like bipolar, HIV, and schizophrenia can increase your risk.
  • Sex: Being a female of older age can increase your risk.

Metabolic syndrome is a common health condition in the United States. Studies suggest that around 33% of adults in the United States have metabolic syndrome. Fortunately, metabolic syndrome is largely preventable and manageable.

Lifestyle factors

Certain risk factors are unchangeable, such as age, family history, and sex. However, you have the power to change many risk factors. Through lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk and help manage your symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Because weight plays such a vital role in the development of metabolic syndrome, maintaining a healthy weight is vital.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), achieving and maintaining a healthy weight involves the following:

  • Healthy eating: Include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins in your diet. Avoid trendy diets that claim to help you lose weight fast.
  • Participating in physical activity: How much physical activity you need depends upon individual factors and whether or not you are trying to lose or maintain your weight. Talk to your doctor about what amount of physical activity is recommended for you.
  • Maintaining optimal sleep: Go to bed around the same time each night and develop a bedtime routine that you implement regularly. Talk to a doctor if you continue to struggle and feel as if you may have a sleep disorder.
  • Reducing stress: Practice self-care, take a break from social media and news outlets, take time to relax each day, and talk to others about your challenges, which can include friends, family, or even a therapist.
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol.
  • Staying on top of your medical problems and take your medication as prescribed.

As you can see, by maintaining a healthy weight, you are addressing the other lifestyle factors that can help reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. It is important to note that the process of change can be difficult. If you are considering making some of the changes listed above, start small and work your way up.

Treatment options

If you think you may have metabolic syndrome or are experiencing a metabolic disorder, talk to your doctor or medical professional. Your doctor can conduct an evaluation to help determine whether or not you have metabolic syndrome and can work with you to develop a treatment plan that is specific to you and your needs.

Your treatment plan may include lifestyle changes as well as medication. If prescription medication is part of your treatment plan, WellRx can help you save money. By using the free WellRx discount savings card, you can save as much as 80% on your medications.

Jacquelyn Buffo began writing at the age of 10 when she won a county-wide essay contest explaining why her mother is worth her weight in gold. Since that time, she has written for several newspapers and a health and wellness blog. Her education and experience is in mental health and addiction. She is a licensed counselor and currently provides therapeutic services on an outpatient basis. Her counseling and substance abuse experience includes inpatient residential, in-home, and early recovery counseling. She is a certified addiction specialist and is working on obtaining her certification in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She also specializes in working with pregnant and post-partum women and has received advanced training on women's health.

Resources:

  1. Raja, A. & Sanchez Lopez de Nava, A. (2022). Physiology, metabolism.
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Metabolic disorders.
  3. National Library of Medicine. (2022).
  4. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Amino acid metabolic disorders.
  5. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Lipid metabolism disorders.
  6. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Carbohydrate metabolic disorders.
  7. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Mitochondrial diseases.
  8. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022). Metabolic syndrome: Causes and risk factors.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Healthy weight, nutrition, and physical activity.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Coping with stress.
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