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Simple lifestyle changes will get you out of harm's way.

Byline: YOUR HEALTH By Michelle Murphy For The Register-Guard

Metabolic syndrome is not a disease. Instead, it is a cluster of conditions that, when put together, increase your risk for disease.

The conditions that are of concern are high blood pressure, increased waist circumference, increased fasting blood sugar levels, high tri-glyceride levels and abnormal cholesterol results. Three or more of these conditions spell "significant health risk."

The major risks include heart disease (the No. 1 cause of death in the United States) and diabetes. One out of three people with metabolic syndrome will develop diabetes within the next two years.

Two important factors contribute to metabolic syndrome: diet and obesity.

Americans are eating more and more fast foods, processed foods and nonfoods (foods without any nutritional value, such as soda and candy). Eating this type of diet, one loaded with simple carbohydrates and sugars, results in an instant sugar overload and immediately raises blood sugar. The body must work very hard to bring blood sugar levels back to normal.

In contrast, a diet that includes complex carbohydrates - such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables - results in a more gradual increase in blood sugar, because the body requires time to break down these complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. The result: a steady supply of sugar to the bloodstream, so the body is more efficient.

Our body must maintain a normal supply of sugar in the bloodstream to supply energy to our muscles and cells. Insulin is the gatekeeper that allows sugar in the blood to enter our cells. If we bombard ourselves with simple sugars, large quantities of insulin must be produced at a moment's notice.

After doing this for months and years, the cells eventually quit responding to insulin. Insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels are the result.

Insulin resistance is the precursor to diabetes. High blood sugars can lead to diseases: diabetes, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

Since one in six Americans is estimated to have metabolic syndrome, the next question becomes, "How do I know if I have it?" To answer, evaluate yourself for the five risk factors listed below.

If you have three or more of these risk factors, you have a significant risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Elevated blood pressure (hypertension): Blood pressure equal to or greater than 130/85.

Elevated waist circumference (obesity): Values differ between men and women. Men's waists greater than 40 inches or women's waists greater than 35 inches.

Elevated fasting blood sugar: Values greater than 100 before eating breakfast in the morning.

Elevated triglycerides: Values greater than 150.

Decreased HDL cholesterol: HDL (Helpful cholesterol) is the good kind of cholesterol. We want these values to be a healthy proportion of our total cholesterol levels. Men's HDL values below 40 or women's HDL values below 50 are risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

Now comes the good news. Metabolic syndrome is very treatable with a few lifestyle changes: 1) lose weight and 2) improve your diet.

Lose weight. A modest loss of five to 10 pounds, for some, is enough to bring several metabolic syndrome risk factors back within normal range. Depending on how much weight you carry, you may need to be more aggressive with your weight loss.

Ideas that might help you lose weight include drinking a glass of water before snacking. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger.

Restrict food to certain areas in your home. For example, if you only allow food in the kitchen, you won't snack while you watch TV.

Increase your exercise level. Walk around the block a couple of times before allowing yourself to snack.

Improve the quality of what you eat. Many people can lose one pound a week by cutting out all soda. Consider this strategy especially if you drink one or more sodas per day.

If plain water is difficult to drink, try adding a sugar-free flavoring packet to your water. Another option is to add a small amount of fruit juice to sparkling water if you enjoy carbonation.

Buy healthier breakfast cereals that contain less sugar and more fiber. Substitute vegetable or fruit slices for candy. Unprocessed fruits and veggies pack vitamins and fiber that are removed with processing.

Start today. Get a head start on the holidays and all the temptations that will be coming your way.

The rewards of these lifestyle changes will result in a healthier you.

Michelle Murphy, R.N., is a critical care clinical nurse specialist at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center.
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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 8, 2007

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