Metabolic Syndrome: Who’s at Risk?

Metabolic SyndromeJenny Coetzee has high blood pressure, raised blood sugar levels, and is carrying more weight around her waist than is healthy. Her doctor has told her that this cluster of conditions is known as Metabolic Syndrome and that it increases her risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems.

An estimated 20 percent of South African adults have three or more of the five risk factors making up Metabolic Syndrome – unofficially known as ‘beer boep syndrome’, and also called Syndrome X. People with this disorder are overweight, with most of their weight around the middle of their bodies, and suffer from related conditions including high blood pressure, high levels of fat in the blood, high blood sugar levels, and low levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol.

There are no specific symptoms related to the syndrome, but warning signs are a waist measurement (indicating abdominal fat) of over 102cm for men and over 88cm for women, and a BMI (body mass index) over 25 (calculate yours at

The growing prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome worldwide is related to modern lifestyle and nutrition habits – our diets tend to be high in saturated fats and kilojoules, and we don’t do enough physical exercise. An inherited genetic tendency might play some part, and ageing is another contributing factor. Until recently the syndrome was almost solely found in adults over the age of 40, but as obesity rates rise even amongst children, it is increasingly being diagnosed in younger people too.

Clearly, lifestyle changes [] are the first line of defence, with losing weight a priority. Jenny needs to consult a clinical dietician who will help her work out a personalised eating plan tailored to her circumstances and lifestyle and appropriate for her specific medical conditions. She needs to increase her physical activity to 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day – a brisk walk is ideal, fitting easily into a daily schedule and costing nothing. Cycling or swimming are other good choices. Of course, anyone embarking on an exercise programme should check with their doctor first and ease into the activity gently. And it goes without saying that a smoker diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome needs to quit smoking!

Exercise and weight loss should lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and a balanced eating plan will help manage blood sugar levels. Prescribed medication may also be necessary to control some of these problems.

Metabolic Syndrome is a lifelong condition, but it need not significantly affect the enjoyment of day-to-day life. Healthy lifestyle choices will help reverse or reduce risk factors and prevent or delay any complications of the disorder. Jenny is making realistic short- and long-term goals for herself regarding weight loss and exercise, and scheduling regular appointments with her doctor to keep track of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. She wishes she had taken responsibility for her own health sooner, but is determined it’s not too late to make the changes which will dramatically improve the quality of her life.


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