Metabolic Syndrome, Syndrome X, or Insulin Resistance Syndrome

These are multiple names for the same, very common health issue or concern. Metabolic syndrome is defined as a collection of health risks that increases the chance of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. According to information from the American Heart Association, The Cleveland Clinic, and Mayo Clinic, it is estimated that more than 50 million Americans have the disorder. The number of people with this syndrome increases with age, affecting more than 40% in their 60’s and 70’s.

There are no immediate symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Rather, the syndrome’s associated medical problems develop over time. Diagnosis is made if an individual has 3 or more of the following features:


  • Abdominal obesity: defined as a waistline of 40” or more for males and 35” or more for females.
  • Triglyceride level of 150 mg/dl or higher.
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or higher.
  • Fasting blood glucose or sugar level greater than 110 mg/dl.
  • High density lipoprotein level (HDL) of less than 40 mg/dl for males and less than 50 mg/dl in females.


The exact causes of metabolic syndrome are being researched but most believe it is related to the body’s resistance to insulin, a protein produced by the pancreas to control blood sugar levels. Normally, the digestive system will break down the foods we eat to yield glucose which is used by the cells for energy. In insulin resistance, the body is unable to use insulin efficiently, glucose cannot enter cells, and the body produces more insulin, resulting in higher than normal levels in the blood.

It is believed that causes of insulin resistance are complex and include the environmental factors of physical inactivity, high carbohydrate diets, excess alcohol intake, and genetic factors.

Research of metabolic syndrome is focusing on genetic variations in the DNA of mitochondria, special cell organelles inherited exclusively from our mothers and involved in energy production. The study is being conducted by geneticist Douglas Wallace, director of The Center for Molecular and Mitochondrial Medicine and Genetics at the University of California, Irvine. The study will focus on how metabolic disorders may be triggered by genetic changes in the mitochondria.

How might we reduce our risks of developing metabolic syndrome? The adoption of specific lifestyle changes is needed that includes a healthy, lower carbohydrate diet, increased exercise, and maintaining normal body weight.