Metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X, is a medical disorder characterized by the so-called "deadly quartet": abdominal obesity, high fasting blood sugars, high triglycerides, and high blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome can set people up for liver disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It's been estimated to afflict about a quarter of the American population. How do we stop it and how can we prevent it?
Well, if it has to do with obesity, the level of fat in the blood, and high blood pressure then that would seem like a job for plant-based nutrition. In my 2012-2013 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death I address the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and reversing our top 15 killers, including many related conditions. We didn't have data on metabolic syndrome specifically, though, until now.
The results can be seen in my 2-min. video Metabolic Syndrome and Plant-Based Diets. Even after controlling for lifestyle factors such as smoking and exercise, risk was highest in those eating non-vegetarian, intermediate for those eating semi-vegetarian, and lowest in those eating vegetarian, cutting the odds of having metabolic syndrome by more than half.
To maximize benefits it appears we have to move towards maximizing the proportion of plants in our diet, but it's not all or nothing. Just adding more healthy plant foods to crowd out some of the animal and junk foods in the diet may offer significant protection. For example, consumption of three portions of whole grains a day appears as powerful as high blood pressure medications in alleviating hypertension. An analysis of a bunch of randomized drug trials suggests that taking blood pressure lowering drugs may reduce the risk of getting a heart attack by 15% and the risk of getting a stroke by about 25%, the same benefits attributed to three daily servings of whole grains. Some grains appear to be more protective than others, though. Watch my 2-min. video Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs to find out which may work better.
More on refined versus whole grains can be found in Great Grain Robbery and Is White Bread Good For You? Whole grains may in fact extend our lifespan (What Women Should Eat to Live Longer), but what about the phytates in whole grains? See New Mineral Absorption Enhancers Found. And see Antioxidants in a Pinch for how to make your morning oatmeal even healthier.
-Michael Greger, M.D.
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