Syndrome X Is Dangerous but Preventable

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 20 percent of Americans have a potentially dangerous condition known as syndrome X, which is sometimes called metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance syndrome.

Gerald Reaven, M.D., a professor of medicine at Stanford University, was one of the first scientist to link high insulin levels with an increased risk of heart disease. He estimates that nearly 60 million to 75 million people are insulin-resistant and susceptible to related health problems. Of those who are insulin-resistant, approximately 5 to 10 ten percent will go on to have adult-onset (type 2) diabetes, with the remaining 90 to 95 percent at risk for development of syndrome X.

In healthy people, insulin allows glucose to move into cells in the body; this process then creates energy. In patients with syndrome X, insulin cannot transport the glucose, causing the pancreas to produce more insulin to normalize blood glucose levels.

The cause of syndrome X is unknown, but scientists believe that roughly 50 percent of cases result from genetic variations. The syndrome is also believed to be the result of body weight — particularly the presence of abdominal fat — and fitness level. Obese people are more prone to the development of insulin resistance, but it is possible to be insulin-resistant and have a normal body weight.

Although specific dietary changes aimed at reducing insulin resistance are debated, most experts agree that a 10 percent reduction in body weight is beneficial. Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, believes that small changes can ease the danger of syndrome X.

"It's not about achieving a perfect lifestyle but instead working towards a better one," he says. He also discourages people from attempting to follow fad diets in order to lose weight. He recommends a diet high in fiber, low in fat, and rich in fruits and vegetables, coupled with moderate physical activity and a positive attitude.

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