Syndrome X: Is It Silently Killing You?
January 11, 2011 by Dr. Mark Wiley
Despite advice from doctors and nutritionists, the expansion of organic food mega stores and fitness gyms and television program, Americans are getting fatter and fatter. By 2006, obesity rates for United States adults ages 20 and older rose to 34 percent.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overweight and obesity are associated with increased mortality rates in adults as well as elevated risks of heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.
Syndrome X just might be the cause.
Syndrome X, also known as insulin resistance syndrome and metabolic syndrome, is a terrible health condition that seems to sneak up on us as adults. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute:
“About 47 million adults in the United States (almost 25%) have metabolic syndrome, and the number continues to grow. The increasing number of people who have this condition is linked to the rise in obesity rates among adults. In the future, metabolic syndrome may overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for heart disease.” 
The risk factors associated with Syndrome X are sometimes difficult to discern. You see, Syndrome X is not a disease, it is a syndrome. This means it is comprised of a grouping of related symptoms that present at the same time. Risk factors of Syndrome X include the following:
- Excessive Belly Fat: This is often termed “apple shaped obesity” or “abdominal obesity,” and is an indicator of elevated risk of heart disease.
- Elevated Blood Sugar: Raised blood sugar levels over time can lead to diabetes and obesity.
- Elevated triglyceride levels: These are the fats that are found in the blood.
- High Blood Pressure: Blood pressure above a 120/80 reading is considered high and can lead to hypertension and heart disease.
- Low HDL cholesterol levels: This is the “good” type of cholesterol needed to help remove the bad (LDL) cholesterol from our arteries. Low HDL increases your risk of developing heart disease.
Individually, these symptoms are bad enough, but when combined they are an indication that you may have Syndrome X. And while Syndrome X is not a disease, any one of its symptoms can cause diseases that are potentially life threatening. The best advice is to see your physician to be tested for the five above-mentioned symptoms of Syndrome X.
You can also ask yourself the following questions to see if it is necessary to make a doctor’s appointment:
- Do I feel sluggish after eating?
- Do I gain weight easily and have difficulty losing it?
- Am I still hungry even after eating a well-balanced meal?
- Am I always tired or sluggish, regardless of how much sleep I get?
- Do I crave carbohydrates, sweets, sugars?
- Is my blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol slowly rising?
If you answered yes to the above questions, you may want to play it safe and talk to your physician. Additionally, experts agree that the best way to reverse the effects of, and in fact prevent, Syndrome X is through two basic lifestyle changes.
The first thing to get a hold of is your diet. Excessive consumption of simple carbohydrates is the main cause of Syndrome X… in addition to obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Foods like bleached and enriched breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, cookies, sodas break down and turn to glucose (blood sugar) in your system too fast. This causes the pancreas to release too much insulin into the blood stream, which causes more cravings for simple carbs, weight gain, energy drops and eventually, diabetes.
Controlling insulin is the key to controlling Syndrome X. Insulin is a hormone that not only converts starches and complex sugars into usable energy but also regulates the metabolism and the storage of blood sugar. The excess sugar not utilized by your body is converted into glycogen, a sugar polymer that is stored in your liver and muscle tissues. This is extra fuel that is converted back into glucose as needed when your blood sugar drops. This system, when working properly, is a natural system of checks and balances for energy, appetite, cholesterol, hormones and essential body fluids.
When things are not in balance, as a result of a diet dominated by consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugars, Syndrome X can be the result. What happens is these foods break down too quickly, which leads to the release of too much insulin to normalize the blood sugar. Over time, the body is not able to properly (healthfully) utilize the glucose and it is instead stored for later use as body fat. What’s more, when insulin levels are too high for prolonged periods, it causes the hypothalamus to signal that you are hungry when you are not! This can lead to insulin resistance syndrome… another name for Syndrome X!
What this means is that your body, by virtue of over-active processes, is causing Syndrome X. However, it is poor dietary choices that send normal body processes into overdrive. Controlling diet by staying away from simple carbohydrates like white and enriched breads, sweets, soft drinks and sugars and replacing them with whole grains and natural sweeteners is a way to change this.
Engaging in exercise of at least 20 minutes duration daily is another sure-fire way to reduce weight and reduce blood sugars. In essence, the reversal and cure for Syndrome X is found in lifestyle choices regarding diet and exercise.
If left unresolved, however, Syndrome X can lead to free radical cell damage and potentially life-threatening diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Moreover, there is compelling research that points to an increase in Alzheimer’s disease and some types of cancer as a result of an overactive pancreatic system. 
When the reversal and prevention of such a devastating syndrome is as easy as regulating insulin by virtue of dietary changes and increased exercise, it seems too good to be true. But it is true, and easy.
So why not exchange the simple carbs in your diet for complex carbs and increase physical activity for 20 minutes per day? These two simple lifestyle changes can make you healthier, more vigorous and able to live with a better quality of life.
–Dr. Mark Wiley
 CDC, 2009. Health United States, 2008, Table 75.
 CDC, 2009. Health United States, 2008, page 32.
 Challen, J. et. al. (2000). Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance. John Wiley & Sons.