For those with metabolic syndrome, lifestyle and weight changes can be challenging. A recent study shows that time-restricted eating may help.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
Having just one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome. But it does mean you have a greater risk of developing serious disease. And if you develop more of these conditions, your risk of complications, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, rises even higher.
Metabolic Syndrome Increasingly Common
Metabolic syndrome is increasingly common, and up to one-third of adults in the United States have it. Its prevalence increased from 1988 to 2012 for every sociodemographic group; by 2012, more than a third of all US adults met the definition and criteria for metabolic syndrome agreed to jointly by several international organizations.
Unfortunately, most of the disorders associated with metabolic syndrome can be silent, with no obvious signs or symptoms. Still, you should check your waist circumference. And know your blood sugar level; symptoms that it may be way too high can include increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision.
If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.
What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?
I often write about the need to keep moving, if possible. Metabolic syndrome is one more condition associated with inactivity, or being overweight or obese. Some people have so-called insulin resistance; the body’s cells do not respond appropriately to insulin, and sugar (glucose) cannot enter the cells as easily. This in turn leads to a rise in blood sugar levels, even as your body ups its insulin production to try to lower the blood sugar levels.
What Factors Increase the Risk of Developing Metabolic Syndrome?
The Mayo Clinic (USA) offers the following risk factors for the development of metabolic syndrome:
Age. Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
Ethnicity. In the United States, Hispanics — especially Hispanic women — appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Obesity. Carrying too much weight, especially in your abdomen, increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
Diabetes. You’re more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
Other diseases. Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you’ve ever had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome or sleep apnea.
Intermittent Fasting May Help Those With Metabolic Syndrome
Now, for some good news: For the first time, a new study has looked into time-restricted eating, or intermittent fasting, as a means of losing weight and managing blood sugar and blood pressure for people with metabolic syndrome.
Recognizing research with mice had pointed to the value of intermittent fasting in treating and even reversing metabolic syndrome, researchers conducted a small study among humans. The nineteen subjects could eat what they wanted and when they wanted, but only within within ten-hour windows. Most of the participants had obesity, and eight-four percent were taking at least one medication, such as a medicine for high blood pressure or a statin (a class of drugs often prescribed by doctors to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood). Notably, the researchers imposed no calorie restrictions.
The study lasted for three months, during which time the participants showed an average three percent weight and body mass index reduction, and a three percent loss of abdominal fat. One study author offered that “all of these improvements reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
There’s more: Many of the study participants saw drops in their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, in addition to improvements in fasting blood sugar levels. They reported having more energy, and fully seventy percent reported an increase in their sleep time, or improved satisfaction with sleep.
Time-restricted feeding (intermittent fasting) may be a powerful lifestyle intervention that should be added to our clinician treatment toolbox for those with metabolic syndrome.
This small and relatively short duration study needs replication. If you are interested in trying intermittent fasting for the management of metabolic syndrome, please check in with a trusted health provider. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and I hope you have a joy-filled day.