Optimal Self with Dr. Katherine Birchenough
WHAT IS METABOLIC SYNDROME?
Metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by a cluster of challenges including, but not limited to, obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and fatty liver. People who don’t exercise, make poor dietary choices, are overweight, and who drink heavily are predisposed to metabolic syndrome.
WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE DIAGNOSED WITH METABOLIC SYNDROME?
I feel strongly that our modern lifestyles have a lot to do with the increase in metabolic syndrome. The less connected we are with the earth and the natural world, including the cycles of the sun and moon and seasonal food grown from the earth, the more disrupted our circadian rhythm becomes.
SO WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF METABOLIC SYNDROME?
Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing heart disease, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease, as well as Type 2 diabetes. Other conditions that are associated with metabolic syndrome are polycystic ovary syndrome, fatty liver, high cholesterol, gallstones, asthma, sleep disturbances, and some forms of cancer. It affects 30-40% of Americans and 15-20% of Europeans.
WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS OF METABOLIC SYNDROME?
Abdominal obesity (also known as visceral, male-pattern or apple-shaped adiposity) causes the waist circumference to be larger than the hip.
- High blood pressure (>130/85)
- Low HDL (<50)
- High Triglycerides (>100)
- High fasting glucose (>100)
- Obesity (not in all subjects, for example “skinny fat” people and some children)
- Insulin resistance (and ultimately progression to Type 2 diabetes)
SO WHAT CAN I DO RIGHT NOW TO PREVENT IT?
There are many ways we can prevent or reverse this syndrome, and all of the methods benefit your health as a whole, potentially solving a host of other problems that may be bugging you!
First, change the way you eat. Not just the type of food, but the time of day. Eat a plant-based diet of real food, and avoid “inflammatory meat.” Eat ethically, sourcing meat and eggs from reputable farmers that respect animals and the earth. Eat seasonally (strawberries in the spring, root vegetables in the fall and winter), eat locally, and eat only during daylight hours to avoid sending the wrong message to your body, and storing those calories as angry fat. Light and food and location are important cues. Just like in plants, our metabolism shifts according to the time of day and time of year.
Secondly, practice good “circadian hygiene.” First thing in the morning, go outside and look at the sunrise, preferably with bare feet on the ground. If you can’t do that, turn on some bright lights when you get up. Create an environment where you can see the light of the day shifting. Look at the sunset in the evening, Protect yourself from excessive blue light after 3 pm and avoid it entirely 2 hours before bed.
Third, cultivate a low-stress lifestyle. If every day is hectic and stressful, you are shortening your life and wreaking havoc on your metabolism. Find a way to change the way you work or a better way to modulate the stress before it kills you. Change the way you view the stressors in your life. Be grateful, not hateful. Seek the support of others to help defuse stress.
Fourth, get up and move! If you aren’t self-motivated, take a group exercise class or hire a trainer. If you are overweight and out of shape, take it slowly, but aim for 30-60 minutes of strenuous exercise 5 days a week. Work up a sweat. And at least once a week, lift some heavy weights. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, lowers blood pressure, and raises HDL – and there, you’ve taken care of 3 elements of metabolic syndrome.
– ABOUT DR. BIRCHENOUGH –
Katherine Birchenough was the fourth MD in the state of South Carolina to be certified through the Institute for Functional Medicine. A South Carolina native, Dr. Birchenough is a University of South Carolina School of Medicine graduate, board-certified in pediatrics and emergency medicine, and has recently devoted herself full-time to her wellness practice. Dr. Birchenough practiced traditional medicine for more than 12 years, diagnosing and treating diseases but not really getting to the root cause. Over the years, she watched as unhealthy environments and poor lifestyle choices affected the health of her peers and her patients, at one point even herself, and knew that something had to give. She realized the pursuit of health, beyond just the absence of disease, is a specialty in and of itself but wasn’t available to traditional medical students. This realization brought her to a new career path in functional medicine and has fueled her passion to treat the patient, not just the symptoms.