Have you ever looked at someone’s physical appearance and made a judgment about their health? If we’re honest, we’ve probably all done it, but we can’t determine sickness or health by external appearances. The best measure of your body’s health can be discovered through a quick assessment with your primary care provider. Without this evaluation, metabolic syndrome risk factors may go undetected.

Physical wellbeing does sometimes leave external clues about internal health, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth. When it comes to weight, for example, we’ve been taught to believe that skinny = healthy and fat = sick. This isn’t always the case. Thin people can have metabolic syndrome risk factors that heavier people do not. Seemingly “fit” people can be more sick than those carrying extra pounds. While excessive abdominal weight can be a metabolic syndrome risk factor, other information is needed to fully assess physical health. Your internal health can be discovered through simple blood work that may or may not match the assumptions you’ve made about your external body. 

So, what is metabolic syndrome and what are the risk factors? The Mayo Clinic defines metabolic syndrome as a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, high cholesterol, and elevated triglyceride levels are included in those conditions. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop metabolic syndrome or diabetes. 

Here are the five metabolic syndrome risk factors to notice:

  1. Elevated Blood Sugar: Normal, fasted blood sugar levels are generally 99 or lower. If you have elevated blood sugars, you should also consider checking your A1c, which is a three month blood sugar average and more accurate than a single blood sugar test. 
  2. Elevated Blood Pressure: Readings above 130/85 are above normal range. If either number is elevated, you may be diagnosed with hypertension.
  3. Elevated Triglycerides: In simplest terms, triglycerides are the free floating fat in your bloodstream. When this number is elevated you are at higher risk for this fat collecting around major organs and arteries. 
  4. Elevated BMI: Though BMI is somewhat controversial, it’s still a benchmark used to determine obesity levels and at-risk health issues. Of particular concern is the excess fat that collects around the mid-section.
  5. Low HDL:  This is the good cholesterol in your body. HDL carries the “bad” away from the arteries where build-up could be devastating. For women, low HDL is any reading below 50 and for men it’s below 40.

The chart below summarizes these factors more succinctly. Note that often the combination of three or more that become metabolic syndrome risk factors.

If you have any questions or concerns after reading this, it’s important that you consult your primary care doctor for further information and next steps.

No matter how young or old you are, lifestyle changes can improve and even reverse metabolic syndrome risk factors. With intentional focus on good sleep, stress management, regular exercise, and healthy nutrition, you can reduce the likelihood of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and other heart related diseases. BetterYou helps you prioritize these health goals and support your wellbeing, inside and out. 

Schedule an annual check-up with your doctor and ask for a basic blood test to assess your risk factors. Knowing your numbers could save your life!