Metabolic syndrome has long been associated with type 2 diabetes and often precedes it. But this complex mix of conditions can also exist in those living with type 1 diabetes.
A study out of Australia has found that metabolic syndrome is more prevalent in type 1s compared to the rest of the population but actually has a significant impact on whether a person develops complications from their diabetes.
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome isn’t so much a single disease as it is a group of risk factors known to increase a person’s odds of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.
To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you need to have at least three of the following conditions:
- Abdominal obesity – a waist circumference of over 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women
- High triglycerides – 150 mg/dL or greater
- Low HDL cholesterol – below 40 mg/dL in men and below 50 mg/dL in women
- High blood pressure – systolic above 130 or diastolic above 85
- High fasting glucose – over 100 mg/dL
Those at greatest risk for developing metabolic syndrome usually have additional risk factors including:
- Insulin resistance
- An inactive lifestyle
- Use of certain medications for allergies, HIV, inflammation, and depression
Genetics and age also play a huge part in determining who will suffer from this condition.
- Mexican Americans see the highest incidence of metabolic syndrome, followed by whites.
- People over the age of 60 are the most likely to suffer from it compared to younger age groups.
People with metabolic syndrome don’t typically have any symptoms or show any physical signs other than abdominal obesity. But this condition does greatly increase your risk for serious diseases which can be life-altering and even deadly.
Prevalence and Risks Associated with Metabolic Syndrome
While the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the adult population as a whole is about 23%, the Australian study, which has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication, found that 30% of people with type 1 diabetes have the condition.
This finding came from the analysis of cross-sectional data from 2,120 type 1 adults registered with the Australian National Diabetes Information Audit and Benchmarking program.
According to the study, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in type 1s increased with age.
Type 1s with metabolic syndrome:
- 21% of those under 40
- 35% of those between 40 and 60
- 44% of those over 60
More importantly, the researchers determined that having metabolic syndrome appeared to greatly increase a person’s risk of developing complications associated with type 1 diabetes.
Microvascular complications, including retinopathy and neuropathy, macrovascular complications, including atherosclerosis, and foot complications were found to be most strongly associated with metabolic syndrome.
The risk for developing each of these complications was highest in younger type 1 diabetics living with metabolic syndrome.
- Type 1s under the age of 40 had a 5.9 times greater risk of developing macrovascular complications than healthy type 1s.
- This risk factor fell to 2.7 in type 1s between 40 and 60 years old.
- And even further to 1.7 in those older than 60.
How To Lower Your Risk
This study highlights the importance of type 1s, especially younger individuals, getting screened for signs of metabolic syndrome. Early intervention to treat insulin resistance could have a profound impact on reducing the risk of complications in these populations.
If you are living with type 1, this study highlights the importance of controlling your weight, and reducing your blood pressure and other indicators of metabolic syndrome to reduce your overall risk for diabetes complications.
Some ways you can lower your risk for metabolic syndrome include:
- Eating a heart-healthy, plant-based diet
- Working to achieve and stay at a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol
- Increasing your activity and engaging in active hobbies
- Decreasing your stress levels
- Maintaining healthy diabetes management habits
If you are worried about your metabolic syndrome risk, you should talk to your doctor. Your health care team may recommend medications such as metformin if you have signs of insulin resistance. Talking to a diabetes educator or nutritionist can also be helpful if you are struggling to lose weight or stick to a healthy diet.
By working hard to avoid metabolic syndrome early on in your diabetes journey, you can greatly reduce your risk for complications now and down the road.