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By Dr Arien van der Merwe, a leading local expert and author on wellness and stress management, and owner of the Healthy Living Space.

With much in the media recently highlighting the addictive nature of sugar and the associated negative impact on overall health, I believe that the nation’s obsession with sugar and refined foods can be closely linked to the increasing prevalence of insulin-resistance, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Below is a guide to what you need to know about metabolic syndrome:

  1. Facts around the prevalence of metabolic syndrome:

By 2010, 150 million people around the globe were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and it is predicted that this figure will increase to 300 million by the year 2030.

This effectively puts metabolic syndrome (which includes insulin resistance and diabetes), way ahead of HIV/AIDS in morbidity and mortality terms, yet worryingly the vast implications of this prevalent health risk are hardly recognised at all.

Undetected metabolic syndrome can lead to an increased risk of developing pre-diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, stroke, and in fact most diseases related to inflammation and fat accumulation in the walls of the arteries.

Those with metabolic syndrome are twice as likely to die from, and three times as likely to have, a heart attack or stroke, and five times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people without the syndrome.

Considering that only around 20% of people are actually diagnosed, it is therefore of utmost importance that we promote the importance of regular health and wellness screenings to include all the aspects of metabolic syndrome.

  1. Common symptoms:
  • Increased waist circumference: abdominal (waist) circumference more than 102 cm in men, and more than 88 cm in women
  • Increased triglycerides: 1.7mmol/L or above
  • Increased LDL cholesterol: > 3 mmol/L
  • Increased HDL cholesterol: < 1.0 mmol/L for men; < 1.3 mmol/L for women
  • Elevated blood pressure: 130 mmHg systolic; 85mmHg diastolic or above
  • Increased fasting insulin indicating insulin resistance (dependant on laboratory specific values)
  • Increased fasting glucose: >5.5 mmol/L

(mmol/L: millimoles per liter – measurement for very small quantities)

  1. How insulin resistance affects your body:

Simplistically speaking, insulin resistance and alter diabetes, can be regarded as the body’s cells not being able to respond effectively to the insulin made in the pancreas.

Insulin is responsible for binding to its receptor sites on cell membranes (e.g. fat and muscle cells), then signalling for the glucose channels to open, so that the cells can absorb glucose from the bloodstream, to use as fuel.

The pancreas monitors the blood circulating through it, as to what we’ve digested, blood sugar levels and cell demands for fuel, and releases insulin in just the right amounts to be used as needed. Insulin therefore plays the critical role of allowing cells to obtain the energy (fuel) they need, while maintaining constant blood glucose levels for a balanced inner milieu. That’s why a healthy body is described as ‘insulin sensitive’.

  1. How to manage metabolic syndrome:

In addition to a healthy and correct diet, genetic factors and stress levels are also contributing factors. For this reason, addressing diet alone is not a suitable solution, and an integrative approach is necessary.


An integrative, holistic medical approach that includes the use of functional medicine, nutriceuticals (nutri- from nutrition and – ceutical from pharmaceutical), well researched herbal remedies, a gentle exercise program, combined with nutritional guidance, advice on dealing with carbohydrate addiction, stress management and relaxation training, combined with a support network, will collectively go a long way in lowering the risk of this widespread health challenge.

Applying this integrative approach to the general population by way of informed self-care, in private practice, local clinics, support groups, community and primary care facilities, as well as the workplace, has to become a top priority if we are to ever effectively address this prevalent health challenge in organisations.

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