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What is Metabolic Syndrome and What are the Risk Factors?

By Sheryl Kraft

Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D.


What is metabolic syndrome? According to the American Heart Association, it’s a condition that affects around 34% of U.S. adults.1 Read on to learn the basics of metabolic syndrome and to find out if you might be at risk.  


Metabolic syndrome (also known as Syndrome X) is an increasingly common condition closely linked to inactivity and obesity. It’s not a disease, per se, but rather a group of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of serious problems, like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke.2


Having just one risk factor for metabolic syndrome doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome, but they tend to occur together, putting you at greater risk. Three or more conditions could result in a metabolic syndrome diagnosis.  

The 5 health risk factors for metabolic syndrome

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doctor taking patient's blood pressureYou might not know you have metabolic syndrome, as many of its contributors — like high blood pressure or high cholesterol — usually have no immediate signs or symptoms. These are the five major risk factors of metabolic snydrome:2

  1. A large waist circumference (or abdominal obesity). If you have an “apple” or “pear” shape with excess fat around your abdomen and waist, this could signal an increased risk for metabolic syndrome.3
  2. A high triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood.
  3. A low HDL (“good”) cholesterol level. HDL helps clear your arteries of cholesterol. When your levels are low, your risk of heart disease may increase. 
  4. High blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure can increase plaque buildup and damage your heart.
  5. High blood glucose levels. Elevated blood sugar can signal early signs of diabetes.


While these conditions may put you at risk for metabolic syndrome, the good news is that they are modifiable! It’s in your power to change them — and change the direction of your health.



Other factors that may increase your risk of metabolic syndrome

Although you can control many of your risk factors with healthy lifestyle changes, there are others that may put you at an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, which are out of your control. These include: 

  • Age. Metabolic syndrome risk increases with age: 40% of people in their 60s and 70s have metabolic syndrome.4
  • Certain health conditions. Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), sleep apnea or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease could increase your risk.3
  • Ethnicity. In the US, Hispanics seem to be at greater risk, compared to other groups.3
  • Family history. Having a sibling or parent with diabetes, or having a personal history of diabetes could also contribute to your risk.3


Not sure if you have metabolic syndrome? Routine visits to your healthcare provider can screen your blood pressure, lipid profile (triglycerides and HDL) and blood glucose.

Can you limit your risk of metabolic syndrome?

Photo by Jonathan Ybema on Unsplash

colorful salad in bowlYou sure can. Metabolic syndrome may be controlled by making changes to your lifestyle.


Since there’s a close link between metabolic syndrome and obesity and inactivity, experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend maintaining a healthy weight and getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days.3 (Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise to learn how to get started.)


Other helpful lifestyle measures include:3 

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting the amount of saturated fat and sodium in your diet
  • Making sure you eat healthy servings of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and veggies each day


If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor might suggest medications to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. 



Treatment for metabolic syndrome

If you already have metabolic syndrome, it’s important to regularly monitor your health and reduce your risk of developing further health complications.


In fact, research shows that losing 5%-10% of your weight with diet and exercise may improve aspects of metabolic syndrome.5


Reaching a healthy weight is one of the first major steps that may help treat or reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Jenny Craig uses a science-backed approach to weight loss to help support your goals. We take the guesswork out of weight loss with delicious, ready-to-go foods, dietitian-designed menus, and personalized support from a weight loss coach.


Take the next step in your journey toward better health by contacting Jenny Craig for a free 15-minute appointment today.

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[1] https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/health-topics/answers-by-heart/what-is-metabolic-syndrome-300322.pdf?la=en&hash=3B60478685B71C2CD6CEB93782DAE8B7EAD33445
[2] https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome
[3] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916
[4] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10783-metabolic-syndrome
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4780070/


Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft
Sheryl has penned hundreds of print and online articles for publications and websites, including Parade, AARP, Chicago Tribune, Family Circle, Woman's Day, Everyday Health, WebMD, HealthyWomen, CNBC and many others. Her writing reflects her deep passion and curiosity about nutrition, health, beauty, fitness, and wellness.

Favorite healthy snack: watermelon (a big bang for the buck!) 




Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN

Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs. 


Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!) 



This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.


Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy. 


This article contains trusted sources including a scientific, peer-reviewed paper. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source. 


Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig

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