Metabolic Syndrome – A Pre-Malignant Condition?

Metabolic syndrome, currently defined as a collection of symptoms rather than just one particular condition, is usually associated with later development of diabetes and heart disease. But cancer?

It’s looking like cancer is part of this mix, too.

Just what is metabolic syndrome? Can it really be that serious?

An Overview of Metabolic Syndrome

Today, what we call metabolic syndrome is also known as insulin resistance. It was originally called Syndrome X. And basically, there are five risk factors considered to be metabolic syndrome symptoms. They are:

  1. Abdominal obesity – having an apple shape is known to be a greater risk for heart disease than excess fat in the hips or thighs. This translates to a waist measurement of 40″ or more in men and 35″ or more in women.
  2. High triglycerides – a type of fat found in the blood
  3. Low HDL cholesterol – this is the “good” cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. Low HDL is linked to heart disease.
  4. High fasting blood sugar –an early sign of diabetes
  5. High blood pressure – known to cause heart damage and plaque buildup (1)

Many people consider these metabolic syndrome symptoms a normal part of growing older but it’s not quite that simple. A person with metabolic syndrome is twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes. (2)

Almost 50 million people in the United States – 25% of the population – have metabolic syndrome due to the rise of obesity. At the current rate, it will soon overtake smoking as the number one risk factor for heart disease. (3)

The Cancer Connection

Cancer is a result of damaged cells that multiply out of control and become tumors. A new study, just released in January 2010, highlights the similarity between the cellular pattern that leads to cancer and the cellular pattern seen in metabolic syndrome. The study implies that metabolic syndrome is NOT just a collection of symptoms – it is an actual disease on its own. (4)

Individually, most of the metabolic syndrome symptoms have been linked in some way to cancer. Overweight and obesity account of 14% of cancer deaths in men and 20% in women. (5)

Other studies point to specific cancers:

  • Breast cancer – it is important to note that there is no relationship between baseline metabolic syndrome and breast cancer. However, in post-menopausal women who develop metabolic syndrome 3-5 years before the diagnosis of breast cancer, there is an elevated risk of developing invasive cancer. Higher insulin levels promote cell proliferation, which is common in the development of cancer. (6)
  • Colorectal cancer – a large U.S.-based study presented at the 73rd Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology concluded that those with metabolic syndrome had a whopping 75% higher risk of this cancer. (7)
  • Prostate cancer – researchers looked at a 27 year study on Norwegian men and found that metabolic syndrome was a predictor of prostate cancer due to insulin resistance. (8)

In light of these studies, working to control metabolic syndrome can delay or prevent serious health problems.

A Metabolic Syndrome Diet

Metabolic syndrome is linked to your body’s metabolism and insulin levels, so an aggressive metabolic syndrome diet is needed to get insulin under better control. The food you eat always triggers insulin response in the body.

Insulin is the common denominator in all of the metabolic syndrome symptoms. Controlling it is one of the most powerful anti-disease and anti-aging things you can do.

Ingesting simple sugars and refined carbohydrates is like mainlining sugar straight into your bloodstream. For better blood sugar control, eat complex carbs, protein and healthy fats. Pay attention to the glycemic index of foods so you know what will spike your blood sugar and what will give it a steady rise without a corresponding crash.

A study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism showed that blood glucose and high insulin levels were improved with a low carbohydrate diet. Carbs are the main stimulus for insulin, so reducing carbs – not fat – in the diet will improve metabolic syndrome symptoms. (9)

Another study, conducted by the scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, focused not on what we eat, but on how often we eat. Results showed that those who eat at irregular times more often develop metabolic syndrome.

Frequency of meals was studied in over 4,000 sixty year old men and women. The participants who rarely ate regular meals had more signs of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Professor Mai-Lis Hellenius concluded, “this study shows that the way in which we eat can also be an important health factor.” (10)

This is important information for staving off so-called “lifestyle” diseases, particularly metabolic syndrome. They are not inevitable. And they have a dietary component – the stimulation of insulin. Do what you can to control insulin and you will have a head start on preventing the diseases that can develop when insulin levels are high.

Always consult your own doctor before making any changes to your personal diet, exercise or supplement routine.


  1. “What is Metabolic Syndrome,” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Erol, Adnan, “Metabolic syndrome is a real disease and premalignant state induced by oncogenic stresses to block malignant transformation,” doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2010.01.001   2 January 2010
  5. Blackburn G, Metabolic Syndrome and the Onset of Cancer, The 8th Annual Postgraduate Nutrition Symposium, March 15-16, 2006, Harvard Medical School
  6. Neale T, “Metabolic Syndrome Linked to Breast Cancer Risk,” MedPage Today, June 30, 2009
  7. American College of Gastroenterology (2008, October 7). Metabolic Syndrome Ups Colorectal Cancer Risk. ScienceDaily
  8. Haheim LL, Wisloff TF, Holme I, Nafstad P, “Metabolic Syndrome Predicts Prostate Cancer in a Cohort of Middle-aged Norwegian Men Followed for 27 Years,” American Journal of Epidemiology 2006 164(8):769-774
  9. BioMed Central (2005, November 16). Low-carb Diet Better Than Low-fat Diet At Improving Metabolic Syndrome. ScienceDaily
  10. Karolinska Institute (2008, July 24). Regular Meals Reduce Risk Of Developing Metabolic Syndrome, Study Shows. ScienceDaily

Source by Dr. Ronald Blankstein