Today, I want to tell you about an interesting podcast I listened to recently featuring Dr. Mark Hyman, a renowned physician and functional medicine doctor, and Dr. Aseem Malhotra, an NHS consultant cardiologist. In their opinion, a contributing factor towards the current mortality rate is our overall health as a nation (or lack thereof). In other words, if we were healthier we would be more resilient to COVID-19 virus, and fewer people would be dying. In this article I thought I'd discuss Dr. Aseem's thoughts on what he refers to as the 'larger pandemic' of 'metabolic syndrome'.
It is well publicised that this virus is more deadly for people with underlying health conditions. But few people seem to be asking why so many people have underlying health conditions in the first place!
69% of those people who died from the virus were metabolically unhealthy.
Rather than being threatened by coronaviruses that surface every few years and attack our immune systems taking away so many lives, Dr Aseem's assertion is that greater emphasis should be placed on reversing metabolic disease, something that poses a threat to overall wellness, increases the likelihood of developing chronic diseases, and increases our susceptibility to viral infections like COVID-19.
What is metabolic syndrome?
It is a complex disorder defined by the occurrence of several interconnected factors that increase your risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. When one develops metabolic syndrome, their body becomes pre-inflamed putting them at high risk when trying to fight any virus, such as COVID-19. This is because their immune system becomes dysregulated, with the white blood cells unable to function optimally, causing an inflammatory cytokine storm in the body, eventually attacking vital organs.
Some interesting facts and stats:
- 6 out 10 adults are obese or overweight in the UK.
- 2/3 of the people who suffer from heart attacks have metabolic syndrome.
- Most heart attacks are caused by sugar and not fats and starch.
- You can be slim and still be metabolically unhealthy (20-40% of the population with normal body mass index.)
- 70% of BAME backgrounds (Asians and Africans) suffer from metabolic syndrome - this might explain why Asian and Africans are more at risk.
- More than 70% of the deaths world-wide are not driven from infectious diseases like influenza, malaria, TB, viral pandemics, but from lifestyle driven chronic diseases.
What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?
You need to have 3 or more of these 5 symptoms, to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
- Increased blood pressure > 120 / 80 mm Hg
- Waist circumference > 40 inches for men and > 35 inches for women
- High triglycerides levels L > 150 mg/dL
- Low levels of good cholesterol, HDL < 40mg/dL for men and < 50mg/dL for women
- Fasting blood glucose levels > 100 mg/dL
What causes metabolic syndrome?
The main driver of metabolic syndrome is visceral fat, often referred to as belly fat, that accumulates around the waistline. It is stored in the abdominal cavity near some vital organs such as the liver, stomach, intestines, and pancreas. This visceral fat produces inflammatory cytokines that produces all sorts of hormonal imbalances that create appetite signals and cravings, causing issues such as insulin resistance (featuring in our next week’s article), that eventually lead to many common chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases, including certain cancers.
Metabolic syndrome also occurs in people after the age of 50, when the body starts to lose body mass as part of the ageing process, and gains body fat instead, mainly due to poor dietary choices. This is referred to as sarcopenia obesity.
Challenging our broken food system!
FACT: More than 50% of UK families food purchases are ultra-processed foods, which predominantly come from sugary products, drinks and starches.
When it comes to our diet, we are responsible for the foods we choose and eat. However, Dr. Aseem points out that this choice is massively dictated by our food environment that influences our buying and eating behaviour. This is because certain foods are made more affordable than others. Access to these ultra-processed junk foods, makes it difficult for a lot of people to exercise personal responsibility when it comes to eating healthily. To add to the problem, these mass – packaged foods are high in sugar, starch, unhealthy oils, additives and preservatives and lack nutrients and fibre.
By educating ourselves about nutritious foods and the positive impact they have on our physiology and well-being, we can challenge our broken food system that encourages addiction and over consumption.
The good news!!!
Metabolic syndrome can be reversed by making positive changes to your diet and lifestyle within weeks / months of adopting positive changes.
5 ways to prevent metabolic syndrome:
- When shopping for groceries, lookout for the ingredients at the back of the product. Generally, if there are more than 5 ingredients or ingredients that you don’t recognise, they potentially include preservatives or additives that should be avoided!
- Reduce the risk of becoming insulin resistant by eating protective foods in your diet and by avoiding inflammatory foods such as low quality carbohydrates and sugary foods. Aim for a rainbow diet that includes different fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, like the Mediterranean diet that helps combat inflammation.
- Avoiding inflammatory foods doesn’t mean eliminating them completely from your diet. You can adopt the 80:20 rule which suggests staying away from these foods 80% of the time and allowing yourself to indulge in them occasionally, 20% of the time, preferably less :-)
- As you age, pay closer attention to your diet that will enable you to look healthier and feel fitter. Eating more lean protein along with doing some resistance training will help combat the problem of sarcopenia obesity.
- Ensure regular physical checks with your doctor to detect any early symptoms of metabolic syndrome to enable early diagnosis and avoid the risk of any health complications in the future.