Sugar impacts health in a variety of ways, and it specifically contributes to and worsens certain conditions. Metabolic syndrome is on the rise, impacting up to one-third of American adults. How, exactly, does sugar contribute to this problem?
What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is actually not a single, specific disease. Rather, it is a group or cluster of risk factors that, when combined, can present serious health complications. The components or conditions for metabolic syndrome are:
- Abdominal obesity (waist circumference larger than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women)
- Elevated blood pressure (130/85 mm Hg or higher OR taking blood-pressure-lowering medications)
- Elevated fasting blood glucose levels (100 mg/dL or higher)
- High triglyceride levels (150 mg/dL or higher OR taking cholesterol medications)
- Low numbers for good cholesterol/HDL (less than 40 mg/dL in men or 50 in women)
For a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome to be given, at least 3 risk factors must be present. (If you know you have even one risk factor, however, see a doctor about testing for the others.)
How Does Sugar Contribute to Metabolic Syndrome?
Sugar consumption is often a major contributing factor when it comes to metabolic syndrome. When you break down the individual components, it’s easy to see the roles that sugar can play:
- Excess abdominal fat: sugar drives fat storage and makes the brain crave additional sugar “hits,” promoting weight gain and abdominal obesity
- High blood pressure: unhealthy diets (like those high in sugar) are often a major contributing factor to high blood pressure, and sugar can directly elevate blood pressure
- High blood sugar: eating refined sugars directly elevates blood sugar levels, and over time high sugar consumption can lead to insulin resistance, chronically elevating blood sugar levels
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels: excess sugar consumption can cause sugars to be stored as fat and has been found to contribute to elevated cholesterol levels
How Does Sugar Impact People with Metabolic Syndrome?
Added sugars increase the energy content of a meal or snack while decreasing its nutrient density. People who eat large quantities of added sugars are getting significantly more calories but consuming fewer nutrients that are essential for good health.
Metabolic syndrome can lead to or worsen insulin resistance, turning into type 2 diabetes. Indeed, people with metabolic syndrome are five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. It can also contribute to heart disease; the high blood pressure and cholesterol levels can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, leading to heart attack or stroke.
Other Contributing Factors and Societal Trends
Sugar consumption also promotes systemic inflammation, which can exacerbate many of the components of metabolic syndrome.
Here’s the thing: so many of these health problems are interconnected. Obesity, sugar consumption, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease are all so intertwined that it is often impossible to separate where one ends and another begins. They are all on the rise, and they all contribute to one another, worsening overall health and wellbeing. Rather than trying to keep them separate and treat them individually, it is helpful to see how they overlap and how lifestyle improvements can reduce them.
Reversing Metabolic Syndrome
Thankfully, metabolic syndrome can be managed or even reversed by making healthy lifestyle changes:
- Aim for a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains that are high in fiber, and fruits
- Cut out refined sugars
- Get enough exercise
- Prioritize stress management
- Maintain or get to a healthy weight
- Avoid smoking, excessive amounts of salt, saturated fats, alcohol, etc.
- Medications are also an option to use in conjunction with lifestyle alterations, as directed by your doctor
Because of the scary health implications associated with metabolic syndrome, the role sugar plays in your diet should be taken seriously. Free yourself from the negative health cycle of sugar consumption and disease, and instead live your best life as your healthiest and happiest self.