Longevity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and you

Metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance is one of the most common causes of aging today.

by Dr. Thomas Alexander — 

One of the buzzwords in holistic medicine today is anti-aging, which I prefer to call aging gracefully without loss of body function. Often ignored is a syndrome called metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, which is one of the most common causes of aging today. The characteristics listed below define this pre-diabetic state.

Metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance is, unfortunately, a common condition found in almost 44 percent of people age 40 to 69 in the U.S. today, and about 7 percent of them have frank (clinically apparent) type 2 diabetes.


Characteristics of metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance

  • Problems with premature aging
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Blood sugar problems
  • Tendency to gain weight around the abdomen and waist
  • Skin tags
  • A cholesterol profile with high triglycerides or low HDL
  • High blood pressure
  • A type 2 diabetic

For the record, type 2 diabetes is the more common form of diabetes found in adults and makes up 90 percent of adult diabetics. In this form, the major problem is an initial overproduction of a hormone called insulin. In contrast, type 1 diabetes is a more severe form in which the pancreas does not make any insulin due to the destruction of pancreatic cells.

With a clearer understanding of how to make better choices that can create lasting changes in your health and life, aging can be slowed and, contrary to popular belief, diabetes and metabolic syndrome are preventable and even reversible.

It is important to look at how food choices, levels of physical activity, emotional well-being and other factors contribute to these syndromes. We will look at how the pre-diabetic state or metabolic syndrome is as dangerous as frank diabetes and the importance of tackling this disease before it starts.

Nutrition and food quality

To make it simple, let’s look at food as having calories and nutrients. Nutrients are essential for the survival of the body and include proteins, vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids and many more. Calories are simply what the body uses to burn energy. Due to overprocessing and other causes, our foods have become deficient in nutrients but higher in calories.

A good example is grains. The husk of rice, which is removed in white rice but preserved in brown rice, is rich in the B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, selenium, phosphorus, fiber and protein. When we remove the husks, we are depriving our bodies of these most essential nutrients; meanwhile we get all the calories. The body senses that it is not getting all it needs by way of nutrients and activates the hunger signal. So very soon we are hungry again, but we eat the same foods and still do not get the nutrients we need. The body stays hungry.

A study at Cornell University took lab rats and divided them into two groups. One group was given a regular diet, and another group had its calories restricted by 25 percent, while keeping their nutrient intake steady. The group with the restricted calories lived 35 percent longer.

A look at medical literature will reveal more than 150 studies showing magnesium deficiencies in people who have diabetes or risk factors for developing diabetes. But other essential vitamins and minerals are found lacking, like biotin, potassium, chromium, zinc, vitamin D, niacin and vanadium, to name a few.

Also, remember that certain plants and spices are food and have a very positive effect on blood sugar regulation in the body — cinnamon, mustard, fenugreek, bitter melon and maitake mushrooms are some of these. Flavonoids and enzymes found in plants are very beneficial.

Calorie quantity

The authors of the book The Okinawa Program went to Okinawa, a collection of islands between Japan and Taiwan, to find out why more people there lived to be over 80 than in any other part of the world. After interviewing these octogenarians, one of the most common responses they got was that they left the dining table with their stomachs only 90 percent full. (This is not recommended if you are underweight.)

The Cornell researchers also found that excessive calorie intake was interpreted physiologically by the body as stress.

All of this goes back to the hormone insulin. Insulin is secreted in response to higher calorie intakes and lowered nutrient intake. In people with metabolic syndrome or the early stages of type 2 diabetes, insulin is found in higher-than-normal levels. These high levels of insulin are physiologically damaging to the body causing weight gain, generalized inflammation, a high systolic (upper number) blood pressure, skin tags, changed cholesterol levels and, in general, cause the aging process to speed up.

In this era of high insulin levels, understanding how our dietary habits help bring the levels down and acting on this information is key to putting people back on the journey to health and wholeness.


Thomas Alexander, M.D, is a board-certified internal medicine doctor, who now practices holistic and integrated medicine in Scottsdale, Ariz. While he has done further studies in endocrinology, his passion is looking at the whole picture. www.harmonia.us or 480-998-3551.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 3, June/July 2008.

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