We often over-indulged in plenty of candies, sugar-filled deserts and pastries made from refined flours. Certainly it is generally more difficult during this time of the year to maintain your healthy eating habits, so here is a gentle reminder: contrary to your beliefs, you do have control over your health because good health is a choice. By making proper food choices, you can avoid developing degenerative diseases and avoid unnecessary suffering down the road. In this edition of the newsletter, I have chosen to discuss a condition called syndrome X, also known as metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes which affects as many as 22 percent of American adults, or some 47 million people. Syndrome X significantly increases a person’s risk of developing life threatening chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Walking Time Bomb

What is unsettling is that most of the 40 million plus Americans with syndrome X have not been diagnosed with the condition. These people are walking “time bombs” that may be in danger of finding out too late by experiencing catastrophic heart attack or stroke as their first symptom. Syndrome X sometimes is referred to as insulin-resistance or pre-diabetes. The syndrome is most common among populations in Western countries such as the United States, Canada, and Britain and appears to run in families. The disease rate is rising. Most alarmingly, between two studies conducted by CDC on the syndrome, one from 1988 to 1994 and the other from 1999 to 2000, it was found that the increase among adults ages 20 and older were 25.7%. The increase was much more substantial among women than men and is in part due to tens of millions of female baby boomers going through menopause in the last decade. Menopause typically results in weight gain, especially around the abdomen, which is the leading cause of syndrome X.

Risk factors

Following are the guidelines for establishing a diagnosis of syndrome X:

  • Abdominal or “central” obesity (waist size of greater than 40 inches in men, greater than 35 inches in women)
  • Elevated levels in the blood of triglycerides (150 mg/dl or more) and LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol (lower than 40 mg/dl)
  • Elevated blood pressure (greater than 130/85)
  • Normal or high levels of glucose (as measured by a “fasting” glucose test)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Elevated C-Reactive protein (marker of inflammation)

If you checked off more than four of the indicators above, you are most likely suffering from syndrome X.

Checklist for Syndrome X or Pre-diabetes

In the absence of blood test, the list of symptoms below may help you determine if you are at risk of having syndrome X:

  • Drowsiness, fatigue
  • Frequent, copious urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Itching of the genitals and skin
  • Visual disturbances
  • Skin infections, slow healing
  • Numbness in the hands or feet
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Dark skin patches around the joints
  • Loss of hair on the legs
  • Increased facial hair, small yellow bumps anywhere on the body
  • Inflammation of the penile skin

If you checked off more than four symptoms from the above list, you should ask your doctor to screen you for syndrome X or diabetes. Invariably, syndrome X leads to Type II diabetes. And the link between diabetes and heart disease is clearly established. According to our good friend Dr. David Heber, director of UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition in a recent interview with the L.A. Times, “80% of all heart disease will be due to diabetes in the next decade and there is a direct chain from obesity to diabetes to heart disease!” Not to mention the staggering costs associated with diabetes and its complications. It has been estimated that the total health-care expenditures for diabetes in the USA is well over $100 billion per year in both direct and indirect costs, or about 12% of all health-care expenditures.

Conventional Treatment

There is currently no FDA-approved treatment for syndrome X. Conventional medicine has approached this syndrome mostly in a piece-meal fashion by prescribing drug medicine such as statins for blocking cholesterol production in the liver, diuretics for lowering blood pressure, and anti-diabetics to improve cellular response to insulin or insulin for insulin-dependent diabetes. There is little emphasis on diet, exercise and lifestyle changes as well as effective stress and weight management. The lack of comprehensive or integrative approach towards syndrome X and diabetes result in ever-rising rates of cardiovascular disease and other complications.

Perspectives from Chinese Medicine

The first recorded pattern of syndrome X and diabetes appeared over three thousand years ago in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine. Chinese Medicine viewed syndrome X as weakened functioning of the vital organs, especially spleen, pancreas and kidneys; accumulation of dampness and mucus, and heat inflammation of liver. Weak digestive and kidney functions lead to toxin built-up that, in turn, creates mucus and dampness. All of which overwhelms the liver, causing it to produce more fatty globules (triglycerides and cholesterol) as it processes the toxins. Chinese Medicine attributes hereditary factors, excess consumption of fats and sweets, obesity, emotional stress, hormonal imbalance and infections as potential causes of syndrome X.

Integrative Treatment

Successful treatment of syndrome X in Chinese medicine involves an integrative approach including acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet and nutrition, exercise, stress management and life style changes. Many studies have been conducted in China on metabolic syndromes including syndrome X and diabetes. The integrative model as described above yielded the best results compared with drug-only treatments.

Acupuncture, for example, has been clinically proven to lower blood glucose level and blood pressure. Experiments on animals suggest that acupuncture affects glucose metabolism by influencing the hippocampus of the brain.

Medicinal herbs such as astragalus, Chinese wild yam and hawthorn berry can yield excellent effects on lowering cholesterol, reduce mucus and plaque and modulating insulin metabolism. One large-scale study in 1992 consisting of 10,618 cases in China on a particular herbal preparation in the treatment of metabolic syndrome or diabetes resulted in 17% complete remission rate and an overall 77% improvement rate.

Exercise such as aerobics and Tai Chi, for example, are effective for reducing insulin resistance. Regular exercise daily allows the muscles cells to take up the excess glucose in the blood stream. Tai Chi has been found to increase efficiency in metabolism, thereby, useful in balancing blood sugar levels.

Effective stress management through meditation and other techniques can reduce stress hormones that causes further imbalance in glucose metabolism.

Diet and Nutritional Therapy

The main goal in treating insulin resistance and pre-diabetes is to help your body relearn to use insulin normally. You can do several things to help reach this goal. Below are some dietary and nutritional tips to help you regain control of your health:

  • Avoid all sugar and foods containing sugar, such as pastry, candy and soft drinks
  • Eat Spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, string beans and celery and whole grain cereal
  • Limit the amount of fat and substitute polyunsaturated fats for the saturated type when possible. Fish and poultry are especially recommended instead of fatty cuts of meat. Greasy, fried foods are strongly discouraged.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals, rather than the two or three big meals most people consume daily.
  • The HCF (high-carbohydrate high plant-fiber) diet
  • Lose weight and lower the risks of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Reversing Syndrome X and diabetes

A major study has verified the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes and weight loss. In 2001, the National Institutes of Health completed the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a clinical trial designed to find the most effective ways of preventing type 2 diabetes in overweight people with pre-diabetes. The researchers found that lifestyle changes reduced the risk of diabetes by 58%. Also, many people with pre-diabetes returned to normal blood glucose levels.

Getting Started with Integrative Therapies

First, I recommend that when patients seek integrative medical approach to their metabolic syndrome or diabetes, they should stay on conventional drug therapy while incorporating modalities of Chinese medicine. As improvements are measured through blood and other tests, patients should be proactive in working with their GP or specialist to reduce their medications. As studies have shown, it is possible to be in complete remission from syndrome X or type II diabetes when the patient makes a committed effort to gain control of their health through the above mentioned steps. However, it is imperative that patients don’t stop their medication without consulting their doctors. Doing so may jeopardize their health and the chance for recovery.




About the author: ChineseHerbalAdviser