Syndrome X, or insulin resistance syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that increase risk of heart disease. These symptoms have nothing to do with high cholesterol yet have proven very significant in terms of predicting risk of heart attacks.
First among the syndrome X risk factors is high insulin levels. This does not mean diabetes, which is high blood sugar levels. High insulin levels mean that your blood sugar metabolism is not working right, but you are making enough insulin to keep your blood sugar levels somewhat normal, or at least below that of a diabetic.
Insulin resistance is another name for high insulin levels combined with normal blood sugar levels. Insulin is responsible for transporting glucose into the cells where it is used for energy. Insulin resistance is what happens when the cells do not respond to insulin and do not take the glucose from the blood. The pancreas then increases insulin levels until the cells finally take in the glucose. Insulin resistance is the long term result of too many carbohydrates and the wrong kinds of fat in the diet. Symptoms of insulin resistance include fat around the midsection of the body, sleepiness after high carbohydrate meals, and difficulty losing weight.
The next factor is elevated triglycerides or blood fat. Faulty glucose metabolism causes the liver to make and/or release more fat than normal. Elevated blood triglycerides are a good indicator of problems with blood sugar metabolism whether it is diabetes or syndrome X.
Another important indicator of syndrome X is low HDL cholesterol. HDL is the healthy cholesterol that acts as a transporter that helps keep bad cholesterol from blocking the arteries. With syndrome X, this HDL cholesterol is diverted into harmful blood fats. In the studies performed around naming syndrome X, low HDL cholesterol was as important a factor in terms of predicting heart disease as was high cholesterol. When combined with high blood pressure, low HDL became an extremely good indicator of risk of heart disease.
Abnormal blood clotting is another important factor in syndrome X. Those with syndrome X tend to have higher than normal levels of fibrinogen, which encourages the formation of blood clots. Of course some fibrinogen is necessary for health, but excess fibrinogen tends to cause blood clots in the wrong places, such as coronary arteries.
High insulin levels also seem to impair the body’s ability to break down blood clots. So, with syndrome X, not only do you have more blood clots, you have a much lower than normal ability to break them down and clear them from the blood stream.
Hypertension is the last factor in syndrome X. Although high blood pressure can be controlled with medication, the other factors of syndrome X if left uncontrolled still damage the circulatory system such that heart disease results.
My favorite product for making the body more responsive to insulin, helping normalize all of the syndrome X factors is a multi-vitamin called Glucobalance, which when combined with proper diet and exercise can help restore balance to the body.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.