Washington: Researchers from the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University make the case that metabolic syndrome, a cluster of three of more risk factors that include abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, abnormal lipids, and insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes, is the new "silent killer," analogous to hypertension in the 1970s. As it turns out, the "love handle" can be fatal.
In a commentary published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, the authors describe how being overweight and obesity contribute to metabolic syndrome, which affects 1 in 3 adults and about 40 percent of adults aged 40 and older. Clinicians have traditionally evaluated each of the major risk factors contributing to metabolic syndrome on an individual basis. There is evidence, however, that the risk factors are more than just the sum of their parts.
"The major factor accelerating the pathway to metabolic syndrome is overweight and obesity," said first author Charles H. Hennekens. "Obesity is overtaking smoking as the leading avoidable cause of premature death in the U.S. and worldwide."
For optimal health, the waist should measure less than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. The authors explain that the visceral fat component of abdominal obesity leads not only to insulin resistance but also to the release of non-esterified free fatty acids from adipose tissue or body fat. Lipids then accumulate in other sites such as the liver and muscle, further predisposing individuals to insulin resistance and dyslipidemia -- abnormal amounts of lipids. In addition, adipose tissue may produce various adipokines that may separately impact insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
The authors further caution that individuals with metabolic syndrome are largely asymptomatic but have a 10-year risk of a first coronary event, based on the Framingham Risk Score of 16 to 18 percent, which is nearly as high as a patient who already has experienced a prior coronary event. Moreover, they are concerned that metabolic syndrome is both underdiagnosed and undertreated.
"Visceral fat and its clinically more easily measured correlate of waist circumference are gaining increasing attention as strong predictors of metabolic syndrome even if you remove body mass index from the equation," said Sherling. "There are patients who have a normal body mass index yet are at high risk. These patients represent an important population for clinicians to screen for metabolic syndrome."
In the commentary, the authors emphasize the importance of therapeutic lifestyle changes beginning in childhood. They note that as the current generation of American children and adolescents reach middle age, morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease will increase.
"The pandemic of obesity, which begins in childhood, is deeply concerning," said Perumareddi. "Adolescents today are more obese and less physically active than their parents and already have higher rates of type 2 diabetes. It is likely that the current generation of children and adolescents in the U.S. will be the first since 1960 to have higher mortality rates than their parents due mainly to cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke."
The authors stress that obesity is a major risk factor for several cancers, especially colorectal, but also breast and prostate and that clinicians should not let the perfect be the enemy of the possible. For American adults, this implies the need for evidence-based doses of drugs of lifesaving benefit for those at high risk.
"In the U.S., cardiovascular disease will remain the leading killer due largely to obesity and physical inactivity," said Hennekens. "Unfortunately, most people prefer prescription of pills to proscription of harmful lifestyles. The totality of evidence indicates that weight loss of 5 percent or more of body weight combined with a brisk walk for 20 or more minutes daily will significantly reduce cardiovascular events and deaths."
The study is published Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics.