What is Metabolic Health?

Metabolic health generally refers to the absence of metabolic disease, which is characterised by healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a waist circumference associated with less fat around vital organs and therefore a reduced risk of chronic disease. A common condition, metabolic syndrome, is the lack of metabolic health.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

The term “metabolic syndrome” was coined to describe an imbalance of health markers related to metabolism. Metabolism not only refers to the body’s ability to utilize energy from foods consumed, but also to build tissues and repair cells with nutrients consumed and transport waste out of the body.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as having 3 or more of 5 specific disease-promoting characteristics. Below is the criteria for metabolic syndrome according to the CDC as well as the WHO [in brackets]. If your labs indicate 3 or more of the following, you fulfill the criteria for metabolic syndrome:

  • A waistline of 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men [WHO: Waist/hip ratio > 0.9 (men) or > 0.85 (women)]
  • Fasting glucose above 100 mg/dL [WHO: > 6.1 mmol/L or 110 mg/dL]
  • HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL [WHO: < 0.9 mmol/L (35 mg/dl) in men, < 1.0 mmol/L (40 mg/dl) in women]
  • Triglycerides above 150 mg/dL or 1.7 mmol/L
  • High blood pressure (130/85 or higher) [WHO:140/90 mmHg]

Those with Metabolic Syndrome are 2-4 times at increased risk of heart disease and 5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes! It is widely recognized as a foreboding sign of chronic disease to come. While it is used as a diagnosis in the United States, it is not considered a chronic disease but rather a ‘pathological condition’ leading to disease. When you have metabolic syndrome, your system is struggling, but things have not reached a breaking point.

What is Metabolic Health?

Looking at the markers that define metabolic syndrome, we can then define metabolic health as follows:

  1. A fasting blood sugar of less than 100 mg/dl (WHO: less than 6.1 mmol/L or 110 mg/dL)
  2. A waist circumference of less than 35 inches for women, 40 inches for men [WHO: Waist/hip ratio of less than 0.9 (men) or less than 0.85 (women)]
  3. Triglycerides below 150 mg/dl or 1.7 mmol/L
  4.  Blood pressure less than 130/85 or (WHO) 140/90 mmHg
  5. HDL cholesterol higher than 40 mg/dL [WHO: greater than 0.9 mmol/L (35 mg/dl) in men or greater than 1.0 mmol/L (40 mg/dl) in women]

You can ask your doctor to assess your metabolic health by ordering a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel and checking your blood pressure while seated in a relaxed environment. Your waist circumference can be measured at home.

As of 2018, only 12% of Americans are considered metabolically healthy, meaning they had all five factors in ideal range.  Considering the impact the pandemic had upon the ‘laptop class’ of workers who were sequestered in their homes for the better part of 2 years, the downstream impact of pre-pandemic habits lost and radically changing lifestyles for many more as well as the impact of COVID-19 infection on blood sugar in some, I would be surprised if greater than 10% of Americans have remained metabolically healthy as of 2023. That data has not been published, however. That said, we do have data showing that during the pandemic years pediatric Type 2 Diabetes increased by 77% overall, doubling in Hispanic and African American kids. This is an alarming trend for our future generations.

While the United States still leads the way with over 40% of adults over age 20 having metabolic syndrome (4), the rest of the English speaking world is not in great shape either. The NHS estimates 1 in 3 UK adults over 50 has metabolic syndrome (5), and that prevalence increases to 40% just across the water in Ireland (6).  #05 of Australians over 25 are in poor metabolic health as well (7). Canada reports 1 in 5 adults having metabolic syndrome but this is from data over 10 years old; I’ve not been able to find anything more current than population data from 2011 (8).

Is is important to get labs done annually to assess your metabolic health. If you catch any of these markers early, they can often be brought into balance without medication (although one’s MD may not suggest this initially). If you already have metabolic syndrome, dietary and lifestyle changes can allow you to regain metabolic health in as little as 3-6 months! So long as the lifestyle changes become lifestyle habits, you can maintain metabolic health for years to come, if not the whole of your life. This will significantly slash your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and kidney disease which together account for over 30% of deaths in the United States and are amng the top ten causes of death in most other industrialized nations as well.

How does one reverse metabolic syndrome?

One of the most impactful ways to reduce visceral fat (that fat around the organs), blood sugar, blood pressure, and rebalance cholesterol is by renourishing the body with nutrient-dense foods. Most people with metabolic syndrome have high blood sugar, so beginning with a pre-diabetes diet plan is a great place to start to not only lower blood sugar, but also reduce any excess weight and normalize blood pressure.

Additionally, exploring ways to move more frequently and consistently will help with stress, weight, and blood pressure. Layering in walking whenever possible, adding in resistance training or yoga or tennis or any movement as you can will go a long way to reducing the likelihood of developing diabetes. If your blood sugars are high, this is a great way to make your cells more insulin sensitive and better able to tolerate the starches in your diet.

Knowing what to do is not the same as being able to successfully execute it. If you are struggling and need a strategist to help you navigate these changes in a sustainable way that won’t require a career change, schedule a complimentary discovery call to discuss your goals and explore options to achieving them. Your health impacts not only you, but everyone you love and I’m happy to help you regain your vitality!


  1. “Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016,” was published online Nov. 28 in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.
  2. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic is Associated with a Substantial Rise in Frequency and Severity of Presentation of Youth-Onset Type 2 Diabetes DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2022.08.010
  3. Saklayen M. G. (2018). The Global Epidemic of the Metabolic Syndrome. Current hypertension reports20(2), 12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11906-018-0812-z
  4. Regufe, V. M. G., Pinto, C. M. C. B., & Perez, P. M. V. H. C. (2020). Metabolic syndrome in type 2 diabetic patients: a review of current evidence. Porto biomedical journal5(6), e101. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pbj.0000000000000101
  5. Xiaopeng Liang, Benjamin Or, Man F Tsoi, Ching L Cheung, Bernard M Y Cheung, Prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011–18, Postgraduate Medical Journal, Volume 99, Issue 1175, September 2023, Pages 985–992, https://doi.org/10.1093/postmj/qgad008
  6. McCarthy, Kevin et al. “An examination of the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in older adults in Ireland: Findings from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).” PloS one vol. 17,9 e0273948. 14 Sep. 2022, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0273948
  7. Adrian J. Cameron, Dianna J. Magliano, Paul Z. Zimmet, Tim Welborn, Jonathan E. Shaw. “The Metabolic Syndrome in Australia: Prevalence using four definitions.” Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 77, 3. 2007.
  8. MacPherson, M., de Groh, M., Loukine, L., Prud’homme, D., & Dubois, L. (2016). Prevalence of metabolic syndrome and its risk factors in Canadian children and adolescents: Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycle 1 (2007-2009) and Cycle 2 (2009-2011). Health promotion and chronic disease prevention in Canada : research, policy and practice36(2), 32–40. https://doi.org/10.24095/hpcdp.36.2.03
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