Syndrome X - The Key to Weight Loss?

Jenny Marsh—10/2002
Syndrome X (Syndrome-X) is the name given to a set of symptoms which indicate that an individual may be suffering from insulin resistance or glucose poisoning. In fact, glucose and hidden sugars are now believed to be as important to restrict in the diet as saturated fat.


Syndrome X is the name given to a set of symptoms which indicate that an individual may be suffering from what is called insulin resistance — a type of glucose poisoning caused by the average Western high sugar, high processed-carbohydrate diet. Researchers estimate that 1 in 5 people (12 million alone in the UK and 60 million in the USA) have the type of body that elevates the health risk of this sort of diet, making them susceptible to a range of serious ailments such as obesity, heart disease, kidney damage, liver problems, eye damage and blood vessel degeneration. In fact, a high sugar / processed-carbohydrate diet is now believed to be as dangerous as a high saturated fat diet.

Most people are interested in Syndrome X because it explains why so many of us have excess weight that never seems to shift, even on a low-fat and restricted-calorie diet, and so it tends to be those who are overweight who make remedial dietary adjustments. However, understanding Syndrome X and changing eating patterns will increase the health and vitality of EVERYONE!


Syndrome X — The Symptoms

The following are a list of easy-to-identify symptoms that indicate you may be one of the 20% that have a genetic disposition to be less able to cope with a diet with high sugar and processed-carbohydrate diet. This means that you are likely to benefit most from making dietary changes. (There are other more "medical" symptoms that indicate Syndrome X — such as high insulin and triglyceride levels in the blood, low HDL levels, the presence of diabetes or borderline diabetes and heart disease — but the following give a good indication.)

  1. Excess body fat - often distributed around the middle, in the neck and the face. This gives a tell-tale apple-shapedbody (rather than a the usual pear-shape of an over-weight individual) and a moon-shaped face.
  2. Craving for sweet foods and drinks - "sweet" can be deceptive, for many foods such as white bread, potatoes and white rice contain high levels of hidden sugars.
  3. High blood pressure or hypertension.
  4. A chronic lack of energy and general lethargy.
  5. Mental fuzziness - the mind loses its sharpness and alertness.
  6. Skin tags in the neck, groin or armpit area.
  7. A bloated feeling after eating.
  8. Dry and flaky skin, splitting nails and dull hair.
  9. Diagonal creases in the lower ear lobe.


Syndrome X — The Cause

When a particular food causes the blood to have a rapidly high glucose content it is said to have a high glycemic index which means it triggers the pancreas to produce a large release of insulin. Usually, foods with high glycemic indexes are the obvious ones such as sugary drinks, cakes and desserts, but there are many savoury foods that have an unexpectedly high index such as jacket potatoes, French fries, white rice, white bread and rice cakes.

The average Western diet consists of a large percentage of those high glycemic index foods which means that nearly all of us have high amounts of glucose in our blood a lot of the time. High blood glucose levels trigger the pancreas to produce insulin — the body's hormone messenger for telling the energy storage cells to start taking in the glucose for storage because an elevated glucose level in the blood is dangerous to health. The priority storage areas are muscle and liver cells, where that excess glucose is converted into quick release glycogen. Once the quick release energy reserves are topped up, glucose is converted into fat in our fat cells for longer-term storage. However, a combination of high levels of sugar and a sedentary lifestyle means that all these storage areas are usually full — so full that the fat cells have become bloated (we get fatter) and cannot soak up any more glucose. This means that the excess glucose starts to circulate in the blood, where it can potentially damage blood vessels, kidney function, the retina and general metabolic efficiency.

Doctors estimate that as many as 1 in 5 of us have a metabolism which cannot cope with this chronic exposure to high insulin levels caused by this excess glucose in the blood: the storage cells are full and so they can no longer respond to insulin's message to store more glucose — they become insulin resistant. This means that the cells exposed to chronically high levels of insulin have become conditioned to ignore insulin's message to take out the excess glucose in the blood. The result is that glucose levels start to rise as less can stored which triggers the pancreas to flood the body with even more insulin to try to control it. This creates a dangerous metabolic imbalance which can lead to serious health problems such as excessive free radical damage, hypertension, high blood pressure, unhealthy blood-fat profiles and Type II diabetes. (This insulin resistance is also compounded by stress, which naturally signals the body to release even more glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream so that we are ready for action. It also causes the brain to release stress hormones which causes the fat storage cells to be even less insulin-sensitive.)

Under these conditions, the fat cells become unnaturally bloated and enlarged, and the body, contrary to popular belief, can even start manufacturing new fat cells. Interestingly, weight gain by people who have developed insulin resistance is usually around the waist and also in the neck and face. So as the individual grows fatter, he or she gains the telltale apple-shape rather than the more natural pear-shape, and the face becomes moon-shaped. This weight-gain profile gives a visual clue that the individual is likely to have some level of insulin resistance, and this is usually accompanied with other symptoms such as chronic tiredness, mental fuzziness, earlobe creases, skin tags and a craving for sweet things. Anyone with these may well have developed insulin resistance, more popularly referred as "Syndrome X". (It is important to realize that Syndrome X is NOT strictly a disease but the symptoms of glucose poisoning to which 20% of the population is more susceptible. Remember that the average person now consumes around 150 lbs of sugar a year!!)


Syndrome X — The Solution

If you think you have Syndrome X, then the best way to reduce the symptoms and lose that excess weight is to reduce blood glucose and insulin levels in your blood. This can be done by the following:

  1. Cut out or severely restrict foods and drinks which have a high glycemic index. These include anything with high amounts of sugar, glucose or maltose in them, as well as refined carbohydrate foods such as white rice, white bread, jacket potatoes and rice cakes.
  2. Do moderate exercise everyday to allow your body to start using up some of its fat reserves. In fact, just 30 minutes a day walking is enough to travel the road to recovery. (You are advised to consult your doctor, however, before starting any exercise regime.)
  3. Restrict foods with high saturated fat levels (red meat, dairy products and pastries) and trans fatty acid content (margarines, refined vegetable oils and many processed foods). These foods can also cause insulin resistance, especially in combination with high sugar intake.
  4. Eat high-fibre whole foods - they have more nutrients and because of the fibre tend to release their carbohydrate load into the blood more slowly, therefore triggering lower insulin levels.
  5. Make sure the protein, carbohydrate and fat percentages of our daily diet are balanced. Most nutritionists advise 55% carbohydrates (low glycemic), 30% fats (avoid saturated) and 15% protein (avoid red meat).
  6. Eat organic whenever possible as organic food is likely to have more nutrients and less toxins and chemicals.
  7. Supplement the diet with specific vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help the body to burn stored fat and to reduce the damaging effect of high insulin and glucose blood levels. These should include vitamins, minerals and strong antioxidants, usually missing from our depleted supermarket food, which can significantly speed up the recovery process.

Over time (a few months), with this modified diet, we begin to stabilize our metabolism and reverse this insulin resistance - our cell become sensitive to insulin's message again and blood glucose and insulin levels significantly drop. The result is that our health vastly improves and we burn off the excess body fat - fat that seemed unmovable for years.

The mistake many people who are insulin resistant often make (and are encouraged to make) is to go on a a strict calorie control diet with meal replacements in order to try to lose excess body fat. The problem with these sorts of diets is that they are unbalanced and often contain MORE sugar than the meals they replaced! Low fat foods often make up for taste by increasing the sugar content, making them just as, if not more, fattening. Avoid these diets at all costs!