What is metabolic syndrome and what causes it?
The pandemic has had a profound effect on our minds and bodies. Often, we find comfort in food and rest, but whilst these are healthy in moderation, we need to be mindful that we are also nurturing our bodies with nourishing, filling foods so that we are not at risk of inflammation and irreversible disease.
So, what is metabolic syndrome?
The relationship between insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome
Everything we eat is broken down into small molecules that are used to produce energy within the body. Foods rich in carbohydrates, such as bread, rice and fruit, are broken down into glucose (sugar) and released into the bloodstream causing a spike in blood sugar levels. In response, the pancreas releases insulin which pushes glucose out of the blood into the cells where it can be stored or used as fuel for physical activity and metabolism.
There are two types of carbohydrates that provide us with energy: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates include foods such as rolled oat porridge and wholegrain rice, bread or pasta that are less heavily processed and have retained much of their fibre. These foods raise blood sugar gradually over time and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Simple carbohydrates tend to be more heavily processed with much of their fibre removed, leading to a rapid spike – then subsequent drop – in blood sugar levels as insulin starts to work. This imbalance is linked with reduced satisfaction after eating and a greater likelihood of food cravings. White bread, pasta and flour are common forms of simple carbohydrates, as are processed sugary foods such as chocolate and cakes. Naturally sugary foods including fruit, honey and maple syrup also fall into this category.
If we eat too many simple carbohydrates, our body must produce progressively more insulin to clear increasing amounts of glucose from the blood. Over time, this may lead to insulin resistance and inflammatory responses within the body which can ultimately give rise to metabolic syndrome.
Non-dietary lifestyle factors may also contribute to the onset of metabolic syndrome and its precursors:
- High levels of stress
- Lack of, or poor quality, sleep
- A sedentary lifestyle
The best way to minimise the risk of developing metabolic syndrome is by making healthy choices that extend to all areas of your lifestyle. Being mindful of the food we eat, and prioritising movement each day is key to stabilising blood sugar levels and managing insulin resistance. The addition of breathing techniques, meditation or yoga to your daily routine may assist with stress management and improved sleep hygiene, whilst reduced screen time may reduce inflammation by supporting relaxation and rest. Making even small positive changes to your lifestyle is an important step towards improving health and longevity whilst reducing the risk of disease.
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