The underlying causes that lead to the development of the metabolic syndrome are obesity and insulin resistance. According to the American College of Cardiology, these risk factors make up the syndrome:
A high level of triglycerides—more than 150 mg/dL
A low level of HDL ("good") cholesterol—below 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women
High blood pressure—130/85 mmHg or greater
High blood sugar that is classified as pre-diabetes, 100 mg -125 mg /dL or diabetes—126 mg/dL or greater
Increased level of chemicals that cause blood clots
Yet there's good news. "Lifestyle changes alone would cut into the massive numbers we're now seeing," says Daniel Einhorn, M.D., a spokesman for the American College of Endocrinology and author of several papers on the topic. "If we catch people early enough, they can make changes and have a good chance of avoiding diabetes."
Once you have diabetes, though, you can't turn back time, he says, "and 20 to 25 percent of people with metabolic syndrome go on to diabetes." Diabetes is an important risk factor for strokes and other ailments.
"We can't help our genetics," Dr. Einhorn says, "but we can do an awful lot about diet and exercise." Eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables, for instance, and get 30 minutes of exercise that raises your heart rate most days.
Everyone older than 35 should know the five risk factors, their numbers, and their family history, Dr. Einhorn says. "Nothing short of our own vigilance will make the difference."