Metabolic Syndrome

When is a disease not a disease? When it’s a risk factor.

Huge amounts of money are spent on treating people who are not ill. Although not ill, these people have risk factors that are treated as though they were a disease because medical science believes that if you have, for example, high LDL cholesterol, you’re more likely to have a heart attack.

High LDL cheolesterol is not a disease. Nor is low HDL cholesterol, hypertension, insulin resistance, high triglycerides, high body mass index, or excess abdominal fat.

I mention these in particular because they are the criteria used to diagnose metabolic syndrome, a disease that isn’t a disease that’s getting a lot of attention these days. One recent report (2005 Drug Trend Report) from Medco, the nation’s largest prescription drug manager, estimates that over 43% of patients have metabolic syndrome at an average cost of $4,000 per year. Medco came up with these numbers not by looking at diagnoses, but by looking at what drugs people are taking.

And this is because as described in the New York Times metabolic syndrome is underdiagnosed, at least so far as the National Institutes of Health and Times experts are concerned.

Both the Medco report and the Times experts are part of a growing drumbeat for increased attention to metabolic syndrome because it is a harbinger of illness and expensive ones at that. People with metabolic syndrome are said to be more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, complications arising from type 2 diabetes and obesity, kidney and liver failure, polycystic ovaries, and sleep apnea.

Let’s back up to risk factors. The idea is prevention. By reducing a risk factor now, you reduce your chances of becoming ill later. This is a good idea. To grossly oversimplify, metabolic syndrome is a consequence of starch and stress on people whose individual biology is susceptible to the disruptions associated with the syndrome. Most conventional scientists acknowledge that the best treatment for metabolic syndrome is so-called “lifestyle” changes that reduce exposure to starch and stress.

How is conventional medicine approaching this problem? A problem that is getting more and more attention? Health practitioners can’t reduce your exposure to starch and stress. But they can increase your exposure to pharmaceuticals believed to counter the effects of starch and stress.

What I want to alert you to is that this diagnosis, this disease that is not a disease is coming at you. It’s certainly coming at you if you’re middle aged. And an aggressive campaign is brewing to screen people at a younger and younger age. So if you’re a young adult, it’s coming at you too. And at your children. And with the diagnosis, drugs will be coming at you as treatment.

To state the obvious, there’s a better answer: reduce your exposure to starch and stress.