If you feel like you’re doing everything in your power to lose weight, but just can’t seem to shed those extra pounds, you may actually be suffering from a medical condition called metabolic dysfunction.
Metabolic dysfunction (MD), or metabolic syndrome (MetS), affects 50 million Americans and is characterized by a group of risk factors, including high cholesterol, high glucose levels and increased blood pressure. These factors not only prevent you from losing weight, but they increase your chances of developing heart disease and diabetes.
“Americans are battling an obesity crisis, and our food choices aren’t always the best, leading to mismatched glucose and insulin and stored fat around the middle,” says women’s health specialist Dr. Nancy Simpkins, a Board Certified Internist with a practice in Livingston, NJ. “More and more of us will develop type 2 diabetes if we don’t seek intervention at the first step, which is metabolic syndrome.”
Unfortunately, since metabolic dysfunction isn’t very well known — especially in terms of knowing where/when step one happens — it generally leads to a later diagnosis of the syndrome, which is considered a pre-diabetic condition.
While MD affects about a quarter of the world’s population, there’s still a lack of awareness. “The majority of patients I see in my weight management practice actually have this metabolic condition, but aren’t aware of it,” says Caroline Cederquist, M.D., weight management specialist and medical director of bistroMD.
To help others better understand this condition, Dr. Cederquist has written a book on the topic called The MD Factor Diet (October, 2014). She developed a symptom checklist for patients called a “Metabolic Dysfunction Quiz,” which when combined with lab results can strongly determine their likelihood of having the condition.
“Often times, people suffering from MD don’t know what it feels like to be well and not suffer from the insulin spikes and falls, drowsiness and bloating associated with the condition,” says Dr. Cederquist.
What Are the Symptoms?
Some symptoms to be aware of include:
- Having an ‘apple shape’ (obesity with a concentration of weight gain around your middle; a waist size greater than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women)
- Extremely low energy levels (typically plummeting after meals or in the afternoon)
- Feeling bloated or puffy (particularly around the abdomen)
- Feeling “foggy” or unnaturally tired after a meal with a high carbohydrate count
What to Do If You Have MD
After getting a proper diagnosis through a combination of blood work, a physical exam and lifestyle questions, diet modifications are a must.
“The key to reversing MD is using food as medicine to reset a dysfunctional metabolism,” advises Dr. Cederquist. “This requires a specific scientific balance of healthy meals with lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats consistently throughout the day.”
With the significant risk to your health and the relatively straightforward ways to fix it, there seems little reason why metabolic syndrome can’t be a controllable illness, according to Dr. Cederquist. If the numbers on the scale aren’t budging, check in and communicate your concerns with your doctor.
Healthcare providers should communicate to patients that if they’re having difficulty losing weight, the normal advice of eating less and exercising more may not work for them, suggest Dr. Cederquist. “As the obesity epidemic rises, cases of metabolic dysfunction rise as well,” she says.
While metabolic syndrome is becoming more and more common, it’s not normal and needs to be corrected, according to Dr. Cederquist. The good news is that dietary adjustments can usually do the job without medications. “Specifically, with an insulin-lowering diet, people can reverse the metabolic syndrome and train their bodies to function properly again, then go on to safe, effective weight loss.”
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Tara Weng is formerly a medical/features producer at the NBC television affiliate in Boston, MA, and National Editor of Health/Parenting channel at GalTime.com.