Cardiometabolic Syndrome: Are You At Risk?

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Kripalu presenter and Ayurveda expert Hilary Garivaltis give a talk on Ayurvedic medicine to a gathering of nutritionists, therapists, nurses, and physicians at Kripalu. As a Western-trained physician, what I appreciate about Ayurvedic medicine, and indeed, most ancient healing arts, is the coherent framework they provide, not only for understanding specific disease entities, but for understanding and recognizing a life out of balance, before disease strikes.

We all know the feeling of imbalance when we experience it. Yet Western medicine provides few assessment tools to help us identify this pre-disease state. Rather, it identifies and treats illness when it is already well established, making the process of healing and reversal that much harder.

Yet there is a language, and specific diagnostic tools, for at least one type of pre-disease state that currently affects 34 percent of American adults. It’s called metabolic syndrome, or cardiometabolic syndrome, to highlight the interconnectedness of our endocrine, immune, and cardiovascular systems. By definition, people with cardiometabolic syndrome have the following:

  • A BMI greater than 30
  • Abdominal obesity 
  • Elevated blood pressure (higher than 130/80)
  • High triglycerides and low HDL (“good” cholesterol)
  • Elevated fasting glucose, or insulin resistance

Perhaps more importantly, people with cardiometabolic syndrome don’t feel very well. They experience the adverse effects of being overweight. They are often tired, and the underlying inflammatory processes that give rise to this syndrome can cause pain and mood imbalances. These feelings may come on slowly and insidiously, making it hard to identify the cause.

Which is why it’s so important to identify cardiometabolic syndrome early. Unchecked, cardiometabolic syndrome can lead to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and dementia; cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and skin; infertility and other hormonal imbalances; gout; chronic pain; and depression.

Here's the good news: Cardiometabolic syndrome is both preventable and reversible. In fact, cardiometabolic syndrome can be seen as the direct result of our unhealthy American lifestyle—too much stress, sedentary jobs, poor sleep, and the Standard American Diet (SAD). So by making concrete changes to our lifestyle, we can reverse the slow creep toward ill health and disease. As little as 30 minutes of exercise five days a week can improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, and increase HDL. Decreasing the amount of refined grains and sugars can directly improve fasting glucose and triglyceride levels, as well as help in maintaining a healthy weight. Adding five minutes of slow, yogic breathing in the midst of a busy workday can lower cortisol levels, which further improves blood sugar and insulin levels.

The bottom line is, don’t wait for disease to manifest. Healthy living begins now.

Find out about programs with Lisa B. Nelson at Kripalu.

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Lisa B. Nelson, MD, is a family practice physician, Director of Medical Education for Kripalu programs, and a Kripalu faculty member who has trained thousands of individuals in mind-body practices for health and vitality.

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