Beating Metabolic Syndrome

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: Blood Sugar
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a collection of signs and symptoms: excess abdominal fat; high triglycerides; high LDL cholesterol and low HDL; high blood pressure; and poor glucose tolerance. The combination of even three or four of these increases your risk for disease. Some of these conditions are:

  • Heart or vascular disease—This occurs due to the inability of your body to properly deal with lipids or fats, resulting in high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, angina, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease.
  • Fatty liver—The liver begins to accumulate fat, most likely from the dysfunctional visceral abdominal fat stores that have accumulated. (As a side note, a study that examined the autopsied livers of 742 children in the San Diego area found that more than 13 percent of them had fatty livers. Even after adjusting for ethnic differences between the sample and the general population, that’s still nearly 10 percent of all children ages 2 to 19. Remember that veins from visceral fat feed directly into the liver. The authors noted that the primary cause of fatty liver in children was obesity.) (Pediatrics 06;118:1388–1393)
  • Skin lesions—The connection isn’t totally understood, but a couple of different types of skin problems are commonly related to insulin resistance.
    • Skin tags: These can vary greatly in size, shape and color, but they consist of a bit of skin that projects out from the surrounding skin. They can be smooth, rough, irregular, flesh colored, or darkly pigmented. They can be a simple elevation or attached with a stalk-like structure.
    • Acanthosis nigricans: This is a condition where the skin darkens in the creases of areas like the neck or armpits.
  • Reproductive problems in women—Infertility, as well as menstrual abnormality, irregularity, or complete cessation.
  • Polycystic ovary disease
  • Overproduction of male hormones in women

Obviously, given this list of diseases you’ll want to do everything you can to prevent metabolic syndrome, or get rid of the condition if you already have signs of it. Along with increased activity, improving your body’s ability to manage blood sugar will go a long way toward improving your health. The following nutrients are known to be beneficial:

  • Cinnamon—One gram (slightly less than a half-teaspoon) of cinnamon per day was given to 60 volunteers with type 2 diabetes. In just 40 days, this small amount of cinnamon reduced fasting glucose levels anywhere from 18 to 29 percent, triglyceride levels 23 to 30 percent, LDL cholesterol levels 7 to 27 percent, and total cholesterol 12 to 26 percent. No advantages or greater improvements were found when larger doses were given. Also, when the participants stopped taking the cinnamon, their blood sugar levels and other readings began to return to former levels. (Note that all the research done so far on the effects of cinnamon on blood sugar has used the form you’ll typically find in the grocery store, known as Cassia cinnamon—though it won’t say so on the label). (J Agric Food Chem 04;52:65–70) (Diabetes Care 03;26:3215–3218)
  • Vitamin D—A series of studies have shown that vitamin D levels are connected to insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels. In a recent study, researchers at the University of California found that low vitamin D levels resulted in insulin resistance and improper function of the pancreatic cells that help produce insulin. If you, or your family, have a history of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), then adequate amounts of vitamin D are even more important. At least 30 minutes a day in the sunshine (without a sunscreen) would be helpful, and a daily multivitamin  that includes a minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D would be highly recommended. (Am J Clin Nutr 04;79:820–825)
  • Chromium—Chromium is required by your body to metabolize sugar (and fat). Without it, tissue cells become insensitive to insulin. With it, insulin becomes up to 100 times more efficient at getting glucose converted into energy. Chromium will help, though, only if your pancreas still secretes insulin. Chromium also doesn’t seem to improve the efficiency of insulin given therapeutically. Most nutritional authorities now feel that we should be getting at least 200 mcg of chromium daily, and even this may not be enough for those with diabetes. One study out of South Africa showed that when diabetics were given a 600 mcg chromium supplement for four months, their fasting glucose levels fell by more than half! Almost half of those were able to significantly decrease their daily medication requirements. Chromium is available as part of a variety of compounds, but I recommend a form known as chromium polynicotinate.
  • Alpha lipoic acid— Studies have shown that 200 mg daily of alpha lipoic acid (ALA) can help reduce the kidney and nerve damage often seen in diabetes. One study found that 600 mg taken twice daily can significantly reduce the need for insulin. After a month of treatment, the ALA also reduced the fasting levels of lactate and pyruvate, and increased insulin sensitivity and glucose effectiveness. 
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