The poor metabolic condition increases your risk for many diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disorders.
If you think you have good metabolic health just because of your “normal” weight on the balance, think again. A new study shows that a “frighteningly low” number of Americans are attaining optimum metabolic health. But the majority of individuals are at increased risk for some serious diseases.
There’s no standard definition for metabolic health in the medical community. The estimated rate may change depending on which factors are measured.
A study was published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assessed data from 8,721 adults from the 2009 to 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). In the United States, they found that only 1 in 8 adults have optimum metabolic health.
Researchers defined metabolic health as having optimal levels of blood sugar, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and waist circumference, without any medications. These factors relate directly to a person’s chance of getting heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Outcomes of the research
Obese participants fared the poorest, with only 0.5 percent attaining ideal metabolic health. However, less than half of those who were underweight had optimal metabolic health. And less than a third of participants with normal weights had ideal metabolic health.
“We must look at metabolism than just body weight,” said Dr. Rekha Kumar. He is an endocrinologist at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. “There has been a thrust to address obesity through health measures. But this research shows that even people with normal weight seem to be developing disorders which we normally relate with obesity.”
The report also revealed that some demographics and lifestyle factors also affect your metabolic health. Individuals with the highest rates of metabolic health comprised women, people under the age of 40, nonsmokers, physically active persons, and those who had at least college education. Non-Hispanic dark participants and persons 60 years old and older were least probable to be metabolically healthy.
“Lifestyle factors play a role in our health. We are not isolated to our numbers only — we have to see everything all together,” said Dr. Samantha Nazareth. He is a double board-certified gastroenterologist in New York City.
Though this is the first study in the United States on metabolic health. Other scientists have observed similar data to determine that 23 percent of adults have a metabolic disorder. This syndrome occurs when an individual fails to meet at least three of five optimal measurements like blood pressure and glucose levels.
Explaining the low rates of metabolic health
There are many subsets of patients who are considered “normal and healthy”, but reveal increased metabolic/cardiovascular risk. According to a recent report, people can be metabolically healthy only if they meet optimal levels of all five measures.
What’s considered ideal has become severer over the years also. In the report, the scientists used “the most restrictive and recent” cutoffs from government agencies and scientific societies, which drove down the occurrence of metabolic health.
“These are the suitable levels for the description of ‘normal’ for each factor,” said Dr. Rosemary Ku. He is a dual board-certified physician and founder of the digital health nonprofit Cure Chronic Disease.
“One of the leading changes now was the blood pressure threshold. The normal for metabolic syndrome was 130/85. But in this research, they deliberated 120/80 to be ideal,” she said. “It’s not that we use strict strategies to label individuals with ailments that they don’t even have. We want them to understand what their health hazards are,” Kumar added.
Interestingly, the inclusion of waist circumference made a relatively large impact on the findings, bringing the portion of people with optimal metabolic health from 17.6 percent to 12.2 percent.
While the researchers determined the waist circumference of each participant using a consistent method, there’s no standardization for how doctors should measure their patients’ waists, Ku says. Nevertheless, a big waist circumference is a significant factor to note when to evaluate a patient, Kumar says.
“Waist circumference can be measured as a substitute marker for somebody’s metabolic health. It suggests that there is visceral fat present in the body. It is a dangerous type of fat which gathers around different organs of the body. And it increases a person’s risk for various disorders like heart disease and heart attacks,” she explained.
How to improve your metabolic health?
Poor metabolic health indicates you have a greater chance of developing different diseases. For example diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.
You can understand your risks by receiving your annual physical. “Question your physician about whether or not it would be suitable to be screened for chronic infection risk,” Ku said. “They can simply order a lab screening which looks at factors, like your blood sugar and cholesterol.”
Lifestyle and diet changes can also help develop your metabolic health. Ku, Nazareth, and Kumar highlight the importance of eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly.
These lifestyles not only improve your metabolic health but also deliver many other benefits for the mind and body. “Sleep hygiene should also be combined into improving your metabolic health. It has taken a success in our current society with technology and what often senses like a 24-hour workday for people,” Kumar said.
“All those operations concentrated on increasing the physical activity of the individual. Reducing saturated fats and reducing sugar intake in the diet shouldn’t just be directed at people with a weight problem, but to all people. We must understand that even if you do not have a heavyweight, you might have a metabolism problem,” she said.
Excess weight will surely affect your body, even if the harm is not obvious now, the research authors say. And normal-weight persons should not consider themselves metabolically healthy without testing their blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.
Shifting public health processes to target everybody (not just obese) is also important in helping improve the optimal metabolic health rate throughout the country, Kumar adds.