Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe a group of conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases. These conditions include central obesity, abnormal triglycerides or cholesterol, high blood pressure, and elevated fasting blood sugar (glucose).
Being at greater risk of heart disease is bad enough, but metabolic syndrome can also speed up the rate at which you age by affecting the primary hallmarks of ageing. Here, we present to you 5 ways in which metabolic syndrome can age you faster, followed by what you can do to prevent or reverse it.
Metabolic syndrome causes increased oxidative stress and inflammation, which can both damage your DNA. High blood sugar leads to insulin resistance, which leads to the production of growth factors that make your cells proliferate faster. This is bad because copying errors during cell division is one of the main ways in which DNA damage occurs. Overall, this means that your cells are more prone to mutations and errors, which can cause them to stop functioning correctly at best or lead to cancer at worst.
Telomeres are the ‘sacrificial’ protective caps at the end of your chromosomes that keep important genetic material safe. They also play a key role in regulating your cellular ageing. Telomeres get shorter each time a cell divides, and when they get too short the cell can’t divide any more. Metabolic syndrome accelerates the shortening of your telomeres by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which damage telomeres. As mentioned previously, high blood sugar leads to faster cell division, which further depletes telomere length. All this leads to premature cellular ageing.
Epigenetics refers to the changes in how your genes are expressed without changing the underlying DNA sequence. These changes can be influenced by environmental factors such as diet, exercise, and other environmental factors. Epigenetic alterations are associated with ageing – in fact, they are the main way scientists estimate how quickly someone is ageing. Metabolic syndrome can cause epigenetic alterations that affect your gene expression in a way that favours the development of metabolic disorders, leading to a vicious cycle. For example, high-fat diets can change the genetic ‘tags’ that mark which genes should be read, which can affect how your cells respond to insulin and glucose.
‘Proteostasis’ is the balance of protein synthesis, folding and degradation in your cells. It is essential for maintaining your cellular function and health. Alzheimer’s disease is one example of what can happen when proteostasis fails. Metabolic syndrome disrupts your proteostasis through inflammation, oxidative stress and high blood sugar, all of which can damage proteins and cause them to misfold or aggregate. Changes in production of the blood sugar controlling hormone insulin also contribute to this because insulin plays a role in regulating proteostasis.
Autophagy is the process by which your cells break down and recycle damaged or dysfunctional cellular components. Because metabolic syndrome causes these damaged components to build up faster, it can overload the cell’s ability to clear them up. This build-up of waste and damaged organelles (cellular ‘organs’) further increase oxidative stress and inflammation. It can also affect your lipid metabolism, leading to the build-up of fat in your liver and other tissues.
While the processes listed above are some of the most fundamental ways in which metabolic syndrome affects ageing, there are many other mechanisms. For example, metabolic syndrome involves a reduced responsiveness to the blood sugar lowering hormone insulin, a precursor for type II diabetes. Even if you don’t have diabetes, poor insulin sensitivity contributes to most age-related diseases, and is one part of the hallmark of ageing called deregulated nutrient sensing.
Metabolic syndrome is also associated with damage to the mitochondria, the power plants of the cell, resulting in impaired energy production. It can reduce the ability of stem cells to self-renew, meaning your tissues are not able to regenerate and heal as effectively. Metabolic syndrome also involves an imbalance in the composition of the gut microbiome, which is increasingly acknowledged to play an important role in the ageing process.
The good news is that metabolic syndrome can be easily prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Preventing metabolic syndrome is generally about limiting inflammation, maintaining low blood sugar and preventing the accumulation of excess nutrients within your tissues, especially the skeletal muscle and liver.
If you already have metabolic syndrome or any of its components, it is not too late to take action! Following the above steps has been shown to reverse metabolic syndrome after just a few weeks of lifestyle changes. Fasting and other forms of dietary restriction have also been shown to be effective for rapid weight loss and reversal of metabolic diseases.
How Metabolic Syndrome Makes Aging Worse: https://www.lifespan.io/topic/how-metabolic-syndrome-makes-aging-worse/
Title image by Mykenzie Johnson, Unsplash