by Erik Lundquist, MD
65% of America is overweight and with this epidemic comes an increase in heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The cost to our healthcare system is in the billions. And the sad truth is that most of it is preventable.
The US ranks first in use of prescription medication and yet we are ranked 37th in the world in health care. Why is this? We have the best doctors, the best hospitals and best technology in the world. The bottom line is that because we have easy access to tasty, high calorie but low nutrient dense foods and we are paying the price with our health. At the heart of this problem, pun intended, is something called the metabolic syndrome, previously known as syndrome X.
Metabolic syndrome is present if you have any three of the following conditions:
1. Elevated triglycerides >150
2. Low good cholesterol (HDL <40)
3. Elevated blood pressure (>130/80)
4. Increased waist size (men waist circumference >40 inches and for women > 35 inches)
5. Fasting blood sugar >100
These changes to our bodies are often related to increases in belly fat. This increase in waist size allows for more toxins to be stored, producing inflammatory chemicals that cause thickening of our blood vessel walls and elevations in blood sugar as our tissues become resistant to insulin, the blood sugar lowering hormone.
CAN WE REVERSE IT? YES! But we need to change the type of food we eat, as well as how that food is prepared and stored. Metabolic syndrome develops as our body attempts to process excess calories from sugar and fat obtained from a poor diet of processed foods, saturated fats and fried foods. The body converts these extra calories into fat molecules called triglycerides. Cholesterol in our body transports triglycerides to be stored in fat tissue of the belly.
Unnatural substances such as transfatty acids and high fructose corn syrup from our diet can lead to increases in free radicals that can damage the blood vessel walls, or interfering with our immune system. The miracle of the body is that it has an amazing capacity to heal itself when given the chance.
Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, a diet rich in fish, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil, can reverse metabolic syndrome.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from increased belly fat and its consequences, I encourage you to see your physician to get evaluated for metabolic syndrome.
Erik Lundquist, MD is a Family Physician who practices for Graybill medical group in Temecula. He has a special interest in disease prevention and nutrition.