Simple, Inexpensive Ways to Avoid Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes

Dr. Janet Zand
March 10, 2019


Metabolic syndrome is a significant problem in the US. In fact, if you are a woman over the age of 50, you have a 50% chance to be diagnosed with this condition. High blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol characterize this syndrome. And it raises your risk for a number of diseases.

By avoiding metabolic syndrome, you reduce your risk for all of these diseases. And it’s easier to do than you might expect. Let me tell you about some simple swaps that can make a huge difference.

I’m going to start with some old news, but it still might surprise you. And it really can help avoid metabolic syndrome. It’s time to stop consuming low-calorie sweeteners. You might think you’re saving yourself some calories. But you’re actually wreaking havoc on your blood sugar.

New research released earlier this year confirms this. Low-calorie sweeteners increase your risk of metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, and diabetes. They’re particularly bad for obese individuals.

Researchers at George Washington University have been conducting research using stem cells from human fat and human fat samples. Their study has helped them get a better picture of how low-calorie sweeteners affect stem cells and fat cells.

The researchers exposed cells to sucralose. The cells stored more fat. It seems that sucralose turns on glucose transporter genes. These genes then usher more glucose into the cells. In turn, this causes fat to amass in the cells. The researchers saw this process happening in both stem and fat cells.

This process is especially dangerous for people who are obese, prediabetic, or diabetic. Such people tend to have insulin resistance. This increases the amount of glucose circulating in the blood. So when sucralose flings the doors open, that glucose can waltz right in.

The researchers also found that sucralose can cause free radicals to build up in cells. These free radicals can slow down your metabolism, making the fat-storage problem even worse.

You don’t want to swap artificial sweeteners for sugar. Try switching from diet soda to tea or coffee, especially if you can drink them plain. Or, you can try the add-a-flavor-boost hack.

Flavor Booster for Tea and Coffee Fights Disease

Women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have many metabolic risk factors. They’re particularly prone to insulin resistance and obesity. Researchers looking for natural ways to help these women decided to investigate cinnamon.

Many traditional forms of medicine have used cinnamon for centuries. It’s an anti-inflammatory, and research has also found it can help diabetes patients. The researchers created a double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial. They wanted to evaluate cinnamon’s effects on 84 women with PCOS. The women ranged in age from 20 to 38 and had body mass indexes from 25 to 40.

The researchers divided the women into two groups. One group took a capsule containing 500 mg of cinnamon powder three times a day for eight weeks. The other group received a placebo.

The researchers evaluated a number of the patients’ metabolic factors, including their serum insulin and lipid profiles.

The women in the cinnamon group experienced a number of positive changes compared to the control group. For starters, they lost weight. Their serum glucose also decreased by 10.63%. Insulin dropped by 12.63%. And they experienced significant improvements in their lipid levels.

Given cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory properties, it’s a great addition to your routine even if you don’t have PCOS. It’s such a strong flavor-booster that you can often swap it for sugar. Try sprinkling some over your coffee grounds before you brew a pot. Or you can use it to flavor your morning oatmeal instead of brown sugar.

Changing Your Side Dish Can Lower Your Blood Sugar

The next swap is one you’ll probably want to make at dinner rather than breakfast. But researchers at Canada’s University of Guelph have been investigating changes you can make to your side dishes to improve your blood sugar. 

Many people enjoy eating potatoes or rice with their meals. But these carb-heavy sides can cause your blood sugar to spike. The researchers have been investigating whether replacing some of these starchy foods with lentils can help the body respond better to the carbs.

The researchers recruited 24 healthy adults for their study. The researchers measured their blood sugar levels before and two hours after they ate various dishes.

They started with rice. First, they ate white rice alone, followed by half white rice and half large green lentils. Next was half white rice and half small green lentils. Finally, they tried half white rice and half split red lentils. They then repeated the entire process using white potatoes instead of rice.

The results were astounding. Regardless of the type of lentil, swapping out half of the starchy food made a big difference. When the researchers swapped out half of the rice, blood glucose levels fell by up to 20%. And swapping the potatoes caused it to drop 35%.

Lentils aren’t a very popular food in the US, but they should be! As this research confirms, lentils help slow down the release of sugars from starchy foods into the bloodstream. This can help you avoid dangerous spikes. If rice or potatoes are favorites of yours, you don’t have to give them up altogether. Swapping only some of the dish for lentils will make a big difference.

What if You’re Already Diabetic?

If you’re prediabetic or just concerned about your blood sugar, making these simple changes can help you avoid metabolic syndrome and the conditions that go along with them. But if you’ve already developed metabolic syndrome or diabetes, you may need to make a “swap” in your mindset regarding how you treat the issue. Medication alone may not be enough.

Many people assume that if they do develop a disease like diabetes or a condition like high cholesterol, they can just pop a pill every day and move on with their lives. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as easy as that. Many of these conditions have huge effects on quality of life and can even be fatal. And medication can’t always control them without a little help.

The good news is that researchers are identifying some supplement options that may be able to help.

For example, ginkgo biloba has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and cardioprotective properties. Researchers wanted to know if it could help people suffering from insulin resistance, a hallmark of type-2 diabetes, who were already using metformin to treat their condition.

The researchers created a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded trial using a powdered ginkgo biloba leaf extract. The participants were between the ages of 25 and 65. They had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes at least a year before the study began. All of the participants were struggling to control their blood sugar levels with metformin alone.

The researchers divided the 60 eligible participants into two groups. One group received 120 mg of ginkgo extract per day. The other received a placebo. All of the participants continued their usual metformin doses.

After 90 days, the researchers evaluated the differences in the two groups. The ginkgo group was faring quite a bit better. Their HbA1c levels (a measure of long-term blood sugar) had declined significantly. Their fasting serum glucose had gone down significantly as well. They’d even lost a little weight and had lower scores on the visceral adiposity index. These results suggest that ginkgo could make a big difference for people who aren’t getting great results with metformin alone.

This Vitamin Deficiency May Cause Metabolic Syndrome in Postmenopausal Women

One final mindset “swap” you might need to make relates to how you can develop metabolic syndrome in the first place. Diet and (lack of) exercise can certainly play major roles. But you may be surprised to learn that a vitamin deficiency could be a big factor as well. In fact, researchers in Brazil have found that for postmenopausal women, there’s a strong link between metabolic syndrome and vitamin D deficiency.

The researchers evaluated 463 women between the ages of 45 and 75. They had not experienced menstruation for at least 12 months. The researchers followed the women for two years, taking blood samples to measure vitamin D levels. They defined vitamin D insufficiency as 20 to 29 nanograms per milliliter of blood. They considered anything below 20 to be a deficiency.

The researchers also evaluated the women for metabolic syndrome. They looked for three or more of the following factors: waist circumference greater than 88 cm, blood pressure above 130/85 mmHg, fasting glucose above 100 mg/dL, triglycerides above 150 mg/dL, and HDL cholesterol below 50 mg/dL.

Sure enough, the researchers found that 57.8% of the women who had insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. In contrast, only 39.8% of the women who had sufficient vitamin D levels had the condition.

Vitamin D plays an important role in insulin secretion as well as insulin sensitivity, which could help explain these results. If we don’t have enough vitamin D, it’s hard for pancreatic beta cells to convert pro-insulin to insulin.

Plus, as we get older, it’s harder for our bodies to make vitamin D, even if we get the same amount of sun exposure as we always have. So you may find yourself with insufficient levels after menopause even if you’ve never had a problem before. And this can increase your risk of metabolic syndrome.

While sunlight is indeed a source of vitamin D, too much sun can increase your risk of skin cancer. So it’s best to get extra D in supplement form or swap your sunbathing for supplementation altogether.

If your blood sugar levels aren’t where you’d like them to be despite dietary and other lifestyle changes, vitamin D may be the answer. Talk to your doctor about having your levels tested so you can determine how much supplementation you need.

If you’d like to trade in risk factors for a number of terrible diseases for a clean bill of health, making choices to avoid metabolic syndrome can help you get there. Cutting out diet soda or sprinkling some cinnamon on your breakfast alone isn’t enough to cancel out other bad habits. But these steps can help you head in the right direction.

If you’ve already developed metabolic syndrome or diabetes, the right supplements can help you on your quest to reverse these conditions and swap dealing with disease for living a healthy, active life.

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