Q: I’m 32 years old. My doctor has said I have metabolic syndrome and could develop diabetes in the future. Could you give me more information on this?

Metabolic syndrome is not a specific disease so much as it is a group of conditions that often appear together. Generally, metabolic syndrome, often referred to as ‘Syndrome X’, indicates the combinations of hypertension (high blood pressure), high lipid levels (blood fat like LDL cholesterol, triglycerides), central obesity (especially around the abdomen) and some form of insulin resistance (loss of normal insulin sensitivity, implying that tissues such as liver, muscle and fat cells do not respond normally to insulin leading to glucose intolerance).

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The term metabolic syndrome has grown in importance as the global obesity and diabetes epidemic has become apparent. People who carry more weight around the waist and abdomen are apple-shaped (otherwise called central obesity). Apple-shaped people are more likely to have blood vessel damage, heart disease, high blood fat levels, insulin resistance (glucose intolerance) and poor blood glucose control.

People who carry more weight on the hips and thighs are pear-shaped and are less likely to have these problems.

Metabolic syndrome is very common and may affect as much as 25 per cent of the middle-aged population. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome. Insulin resistance is believed to be a key component of this syndrome and to a number of metabolically unfavourable changes. All these factors have adverse cardio vascular (heart and blood vessels) association and many are closely inter-related.

The clinical features of the syndrome are insulin resistance (glucose intolerance), central abdomen obesity, dyslipidaemia (abnormal blood fat levels), increased blood pressure, microalbuminuria (albumin appearing in small quantities in urine), gout/hyperuricemia (high uric acid in the blood) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, among others. People with this combination of risk factors run a much higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The focus of treatment will be on treating the underlying problems that are causing the conditions to appear – usually poor diet and lack of exercise, both leading to obesity. The ideal plan includes exercise, healthy meal plan with less cholesterol and more fibre, smoking cessation (quitting smoking), blood pressure (hypertension) medication (if needed) and diabetes medication (if needed).

Because obesity is thought to be the main factor contributing to metabolic syndrome, losing weight will be the focus of treatment. Losing just a few kilos can have a dramatic effect on your health.

Keep in mind that having metabolic syndrome puts you at a greater risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke; but it does not necessarily mean you will develop heart problems. With exercise and good diet, you can do a lot to counter the negative effect of metabolic syndrome.

Dr Asok Cheriyan is specialist diabetologist and general practitioner at Al Waha Clinic, Dubai. Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to friday@gulfnews.com.