October 15, 2018/Diabetes & Endocrinology

Diagnosed With Metabolic Syndrome? Why It’s a Call to Action You Should Take Seriously

Metabolic syndrome doesn’t have to lead to diabetes


Maybe your belt has gotten tighter, or your pants are snug around the waist. Then you learn your blood pressure is up, your blood sugar level has risen or your blood lipid levels are out of whack. Should you be worried?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Absolutely, says endocrinologist Betul Hatipoglu, MD. This cluster of findings is called metabolic syndrome, and if left unchecked, leads to trouble.

“People with metabolic syndrome have a risk of heart attack and stroke that is double the risk of people who do not have metabolic syndrome. That’s the official statistic. In my opinion, the risk is much higher,” she says.

Insulin resistance is the culprit

The root cause of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance, the first step on the road toward diabetes. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing diabetes five-fold.

“A large waist is the signature finding. Fat that increases waist size causes insulin resistance,” says Dr. Hatipoglu. “There is no good test for insulin resistance, so we look for rising glucose levels.”

Patients with insulin resistance almost always have high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol levels, as well. The trio of risk factors is key. “Together, they conspire to cause inflammation in the blood vessels, which causes heart disease,” she explains.

Reversing the course

Metabolic syndrome is treated by tackling its individual risk factors. As each one normalizes, insulin resistance drops, and along with it, risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

Medications may be necessary. Yet the key to reversing metabolic syndrome is weight loss and exercise, which work together to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and help improve insulin resistance. Unfortunately, metabolic syndrome can make losing weight a struggle.

“I tell patients their body thinks they are starving and is holding on to calories and fat. Your body needs to understand that it’s okay to let the fat go, and there is no single drug as strong as exercise that will give your body this signal,” says Dr. Hatipoglu. “Fat won’t melt away, but exercise opens the door to pour the fat out when you are dieting.”

A prescription that works

Although few people welcome a prescription of diet and exercise, Dr. Hatipoglu’s recommendations are not difficult to follow:

To lose weight, avoid carbs. “Carbohydrates need insulin to be metabolized. Even if you eat a small piece of bread, your need for insulin rises, and it signals the body to hold on to fat,” she explains. “If you don’t prod the insulin, your body will use the fat you have.” She advises eating lean protein, nuts, vegetables and low-carb fruits such as berries and melon. Once you reach your desired weight, switching to a Mediterranean diet will help you maintain a healthy weight.


Move it and lift it. “I tell patients to do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, but that it won’t be enough. I recommend adding weight training twice a week, because muscle mass makes you more insulin sensitive,” she says. Walking, swimming, biking, dancing and even vigorous gardening or housecleaning are aerobic activities that can count as exercise. Weight training is easy to do at home. “Buy 2- or 5-pound weights and lift them while you are watching TV,” Dr. Hatipoglu suggests.

As your weight drops, your blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipid levels will begin to normalize. Over time, metabolic syndrome will disappear.

“You’ll be surprised at how well this prescription impacts your overall health,” says Dr. Hatipoglu. “It brings your youth back fast.”

This article originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Variety of cereals in different bowls
Here’s What To Know About Choosing Cereal if You Have Diabetes

There are better breakfast options, but if it’s got to be cereal, look for whole grains, high fiber and no added sugar

Hand holding glucose measurement device, with bottle of water in background at night
Are Religious Fasts Safe for People With Diabetes?

Planning ahead, checking in with your care team and being vigilant about blood sugar monitoring can help ensure a safe fast

healthcare provider writing in notes, with glucometer, blood droplet, medicine and approved foods floating near
How Stress and Depression Affect Diabetes

A diabetes diagnosis, new or long-standing, can trigger reactions like grief, stress, depression and frustration, but symptom relief and help are available

Person testing their blood sugar with their home kit
February 29, 2024/Diabetes & Endocrinology
Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes: What’s the Difference?

Type 1 diabetes happens when your body doesn’t make insulin, while Type 2 happens when your body can’t use insulin properly

person adding blueberries to bowl of granola cereal
January 8, 2024/Diabetes & Endocrinology
Can People With Diabetes Have Sugar?

The short answer: Yes, but you need to eat it in moderation and keep track of how much you consume

Person helps older family member with taking thier blood pressure.
October 26, 2023/Eye Care
How To Support Someone With Diabetes-Related Macular Edema

Taking care of yourself helps you take care of your loved one

beer glass sitting beside diabetes testing equipment
October 11, 2023/Diabetes & Endocrinology
Diabetes and Alcohol: Do They Mix?

Blood glucose monitoring and drinking in moderation can help you avoid hypoglycemia

Person monitoring blood glucose level with glucometer.
September 27, 2023/Diabetes & Endocrinology
Managing Blood Sugar When You Have Diabetes-Related Macular Edema

Keeping blood glucose levels in a healthy range is critical with diabetes-related vision issues

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey