Previously known as syndrome X, this condition often goes undiagnosed by health professionals and unrecognized by the general public, but it affects thousands of Canadians and puts them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. It is thought that metabolic syndrome can double, or even triple, the risk of dying from heart disease.

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when you have:

  • excessive fat around the waist, see table below:


Waist circumference


European, Sub-Saharan African, Eastern Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern

greater than 94 cm or 37 inches

Chinese, Japanese, Ethnic South and Central American, or First Nations

greater than 90 cm or 35.4



greater than 80 cm or 31.5 inches

  • Plus two of the following:
  • low good cholesterol levels [HDL] (lower than 1.03 mmol/L for men and 1.3 mmol/L for women)
  • high triglyceride levels (higher than 1.7 mmol/L)
  • high blood pressure (higher than 130/85 mm Hg)
  • higher than normal sugar levels in the blood (but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes - greater than 5.6 mmol/L fasting blood glucose)

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas (an organ located near the stomach) that keeps the sugar levels in the blood normal and helps convert the food we eat into energy. Metabolic syndrome is thought to be caused by insulin resistance, when insulin's ability to control sugar levels in the blood is decreased. When the body is experiencing insulin resistance, the pancreas is forced to create more insulin than normal, resulting in excessive amounts of insulin in the body.

Recognize the risk factors

Because most people do not experience any changes in the way they feel, metabolic syndrome often goes unnoticed. However, the risks associated with this condition can be significant, and the results of letting this condition progress could be serious and even life-threatening.

You may have an increased chance of developing metabolic syndrome if you:

  • are overweight or obese (have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25)
  • are of Native American, South Asian, African, or Hispanic descent
  • have a family history of diabetes
  • have other diseases, such as high blood, pressure, heart disease, or polycystic ovary syndrome

Your chances also increase with age. There are several ways you can decrease your likelihood of developing this condition.

Treatment options

Effective treatment revolves around preventing the progression of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Each risk factor (e.g., high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, diabetes) is treated separately.

A healthy lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and diet are effective preventive measures against developing metabolic syndrome. Although it is recommended that you exercise for at least 150 minutes with moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week, it has been shown that even 30 minutes of physical activity once a week can lower your chances of developing this condition. Physical activity reaps the most rewards when done for 10-minute intervals or longer.

The more physically active you are, the more it benefits your overall health. Following Canada's Food Guide for healthy eating, seeing your doctor for routine checkups, and monitoring your own blood glucose and blood pressure levels can all help to reduce your risk.


If lifestyle changes alone are not enough, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications:

  • weight-loss medications
  • insulin sensitizers (such as metformin, rosiglitazone, and pioglitazone) help lower blood glucose and allow insulin to work better
  • acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) helps reduce risk of heart disease
  • blood-pressure-lowering medications such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or diuretics ("water pills") help to control high blood pressure
  • medications to regulate triglyceride levels, decrease bad cholesterol (LDL), and increase good cholesterol (HDL), including "statins" (e.g., atorvastatin, rosuvastatin, and fibrates such as fenofibrate)