• by: Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus Editorial Staff
  • July 18th, 2022

The term metabolic syndrome refers to a series of associated metabolic alterations: hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. They are all risk factors for cardio-vascular diseases, and when combined they cause an increase in the probability of incurring vascular disorders, heart problems, and even the risk of having a stroke. High blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are related and increasingly widespread diseases, as a result of unhealthy eating habits and unregulated lifestyle. Metabolic syndrome is also referred to as insulin resistance syndrome, since it is believed to be caused by cells’ resistance to insulin, which is the hormone synthesized by the pancreas that allows glucose found in blood to enter cells and be used as a source of energy. In the case of insulin resistance, cells do not respond to the stimulus provided by insulin and, therefore, the glucose remains in the bloodstream and its levels increase, despite the body trying to keep it under control by producing more and more insulin.


Medicine has identified several contributing factors that cause metabolic syndrome. First of all, genetic factors, which vary from individual to individual on an ethnic basis, in relation to their predisposition to insulin resistance. Then there are molecular factors, namely the presence of nuclear receptors, inflammatory substances, proteins, and hormones that regulate the blood’s amount of glucose. Last but not least, environmental factors, related to unhealthy eating habits, being overweight and a sedentary lifestyle. Ultimately, those who have a genetic predisposition to develop insulin resistance and, at the same time, are scarcely physically active and accumulate excess weight, run a greater risk of suffering from metabolic syndrome.

The assessment is based on the combination of 5 risk factors including: obesity and waist circumference; hypertension; HDL cholesterol; blood glucose triglycerides (or insulin resistance) These parameters have been identified by international organizations such as WHO (World Health Organization), IDF (International Diabetes Federation), AHA / NHLBI (American Heart Association / National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute), and ATIII-NCEP (Adult Treatment Panel III – National Cholesterol Education Program). In order for it to be considered a case of metabolic syndrome, at least 3 of the 5 parameters must coexist in an altered state. According to the most widespread international guidelines, the limit values are:

  • waist circumference ≥ 102 cm /40 inches in males and ≥ 88 cm/ 34.5 inches in females
  • blood pressure ≥130 / 85
  • HDL cholesterol <40 mg / dL in males and <50 mg / dL in females
  • triglycerides ≥ 150 mg / dl
  • (fasting) blood glucose ≥ 110

Being aware of the parameters that need to be kept under control is fundamental, as they are also cardio-vascular risk factors. In addition, often those suffering from metabolic syndrome also face problems such as blood clotting and chronic inflammation, as well as other pathological conditions including fatty liver, gallstones, polycystic ovary, and sleep apnea. This goes to show the importance of systemic intervention when dealing with metabolic syndrome. This also goes hand in hand with the essential role of prevention.


There is only one way to prevent metabolic syndrome. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, focused on maintaining a healthy weight, with the help of a correct and balanced diet, alongside the practice of regular daily physical activity. These are all concrete actions that allow you to keep blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose values in the blood in check. Furthermore, it is a good idea to moderate the consumption of alcohol and completely avoid smoking.

How is metabolic syndrome treated? First of all, a change in your habits is required, by steering them towards a healthier lifestyle, based on a balanced diet and an increase in moderate physical exercises, which promotes weight loss and a reduction in body fat, especially abdominal fat. Furthermore, in cases of overweight, it is advisable to reduce the daily number of calories introduced. This can be achieved by decreasing the intake of sugar, sweets, sugary drinks, table salt, and animal fats and choosing to regularly consume fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Limit the consumption of animal proteins, including red meats, sausages, milk, and cheeses. When seasoning your food, use only extra virgin olive oil as a final touch. Here are some simple daily ways to reduce body weight: taking the stairs, walking or cycling, walking at a fast pace for about 10 minutes 3 times a week, up to 30-60 minutes 4-6 times a week. In case of overt illness, based on the presence of altered parameters, the doctor may prescribe drug therapy to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglycerides or reduce blood sugar.

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