What is metabolic syndrome and can you prevent it?

Metabolic syndrome affects around one in four adults in the UK. The good news is that it's largely preventable.

Metabolic syndrome increases your risk of diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other health conditions. It affects around one in four adults in the UK [1], though it may not cause symptoms initially. 

Learn what metabolic syndrome is, who is most at risk, and what prevention strategies and treatments are available. 

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome (also known as insulin resistance syndrome) is a cluster of common health conditions that can increase your risk of certain lifestyle-related diseases.  

You may have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the five factors of metabolic syndrome.  

The five factors of metabolic syndrome: 

  1. Abdominal obesity 
  2. High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  3. High levels of triglycerides 
  4. Impaired fasting glucose (including insulin resistance) 
  5. Low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) 


Metabolic syndrome vs metabolic disorders

Metabolic disorders are any conditions affecting metabolism. They can be acquired, like type 2 diabetes, or genetic, like Gaucher’s disease. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of factors or conditions that happen together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.  

Who is most at risk of metabolic syndrome?

Your lifestyle choices, age, and genetics affect your risk for metabolic syndrome. 

Eating a diet high in saturated fat, being overweight, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol all raise your risk.   

Risk factors for metabolic syndrome include: 

  • Being prediabetic  
  • Carrying excess weight (particularly around your waistline) 
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol 
  • Eating a high-saturated-fat diet 
  • Getting older 
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome [2] (women with PCOS are up to 11 times more likely to have metabolic syndrome) 
  • High cholesterol levels  
  • Smoking  

How do I know if I have metabolic syndrome?

You may not have any symptoms related to metabolic syndrome, especially in the early stages. One noticeable (potential) aspect of metabolic syndrome is being overweight – the rest you can only know from health checks or blood tests. 

Which blood tests investigate metabolic syndrome? 

Blood tests include your fasting: 

  • Blood glucose 
  • HDL cholesterol 
  • Total cholesterol 
  • Triglycerides 

Other blood test investigations may include: 

  • Aminotransferases 
  • HbA1c 
  • OGTT (an oral glucose tolerance test) 
  • Serum urea and creatinine 


How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed? 

A doctor can diagnose metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the five diagnostic factors. Other diagnostic factors can put you at increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.  


How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed?
Key diagnostic factors Other diagnostic factors
Abdominal obesity Angina
High blood pressure Increased body mass index (BMI)
High triglycerides High LDL cholesterol
High fasting blood glucose Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Low LDL cholesterol Type 2 diabetes


Can you reverse metabolic syndrome?

In most cases, you can reverse and treat metabolic syndrome with healthy lifestyle changes. Healthy lifestyle changes may even be more effective at treating metabolic syndrome than some medications [3]. 

These lifestyle changes essentially address the risk factors for metabolic syndrome. 

     Risks for metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure

Prevention and treatment for metabolic syndrome focus on: 

  • Eating a healthy diet 
  • Physical activity 
  • Weight loss (reaching and maintaining a healthy weight) 
  • Quitting smoking  

Three ways to treat metabolic syndrome

1. Eat a healthy diet 

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy diet for overall and heart health. It focuses on filling your plate with whole foods and healthy fats and avoiding ultra-processed food and drinks. 

To lower your risk of metabolic syndrome, avoid or limit foods high in saturated fat. Instead, choose foods that are rich in omega-3 fats and low on the glycaemic index.   

Foods to remove or limit:   

  • Cured meats – bacon, deli meats, hot dogs 
  • Refined carbs – white flour, sugary snacks, and sugar-sweetened drinks 
  • Saturated fats – baked goods 
  • Ultra-processed foods – packaged or fast foods 

     Avoid ultra-processed food for metabolic health

Foods to fill your plate with: 

  • Fish, like salmon and mackerel 
  • Fruits and vegetables  
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Olive oil 
  • Wholegrains 

Be mindful of what you’re drinking, too. Avoid or limit sugary hot or cold drinks – even the diet ones.  


2. Include daily physical activity 

Physical activity helps improve many health markers, from blood pressure to weight.  

Getting 150 minutes of exercise a week with healthy nutrition can dramatically reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome [4]. 

Aim for around 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise a week, spread over at least four or five days, including a mix of:  

  • Aerobic exercises – swimming, cycling, dancing, hiking, jogging, walking 
  • Anaerobic exercises – sprinting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), power-lifting 
  • Balance and stretches – yoga, Pilates, tai chi 


3. Keep to a healthy weight  

Metabolic syndrome most often co-occurs with obesity. Although, it is possible to develop metabolic syndrome even if you’re a healthy weight. It’s called metabolic obesity with normal weight (MONW). MONW is when you have three of the five features of metabolic syndrome and a normal body mass index.  

A key measure we’re interested in for metabolic syndrome is your waist circumference. Abdominal obesity is considered more than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men. 

How do I lose visceral fat? 

The best way to lose visceral fat is by maintaining healthy nutrition and exercise habits as well as [5]: 

  • Good sleep hygiene – poor sleep may increase your risk of visceral fat 
  • Reduce stresscortisol (the stress hormone we measure) triggers visceral fat to be stored 
  • Limit alcohol – drinking too much can increase the amount of visceral fat 

Metabolic syndrome most often co-occurs with obesity  

4. Quit smoking 

We know that smoking isn’t great for our health. Each cigarette you smoke causes a temporary rise in blood pressure. Over time, smoking damages your blood vessels, leading to a build-up of fat in your artery walls, making them narrower. This means your heart needs to work much harder, and you’re more likely to experience a clot [6].  

Smoking can also lead to type 2 diabetes [7]. Insulin helps blood sugar enter cells, but nicotine changes cells so they don’t respond to insulin. People who smoke also have a higher risk of belly fat – another factor for metabolic syndrome.  

Smoking increases your risk of [8]: 

  • Cancer 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 
  • Diabetes 
  • Heart disease 
  • Lung diseases 
  • Stroke 

The NHS has free resources to help you go smoke-free, including a quit-smoking app to track your progress.  

How important is metabolic syndrome for my health?

Metabolic syndrome isn’t a disease in itself that will make you sick. Instead, it is a cluster of conditions that put you at a higher risk of developing other diseases.  

Complications of metabolic syndrome include heart disease and diabetes. These health conditions can impact how long you can live (lifespan) and how long you live in good health (healthspan).  

If you’re interested in health longevity, read 8 biomarkers to check for longevity or view our Optimal Health Blood Test.  




  1. NIDirect. (n.d.). About metabolic syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/metabolic-syndrome#:~:text=reversing%20metabolic%20syndrome-,About%20metabolic%20syndrome,estimated%20one%20in%20four%20adults.
  2. Journals@Ovid. (2005). Screening Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome for Metabolic Syndrome. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 106(1), 131-137. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000165826.82654.9f
  3. Myers, J., Kokkinos, P., & Nyelin, E. (2019). Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and the Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients, 11(7), 1652. doi: 10.3390/nu11071652. PMID: 31331009; PMCID: PMC6683051.
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2019). Those in the lifestyle intervention group showed a reduced incidence of new onset of metabolic syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683051/#:~:text=Those%20in%20the%20lifestyle%20intervention,new%20onset%20of%20metabolic%20syndrome.
  5. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Visceral Fat. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24147-visceral-fat
  6. Blood Pressure UK. (n.d.). Smoking and your blood pressure. Retrieved from https://www.bloodpressureuk.org/your-blood-pressure/how-to-lower-your-blood-pressure/healthy-living/smoking-and-your-blood-pressure/#:~:text=Each%20cigarette%20you%20smoke%20causes,your%20heart%20to%20work%20harder.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Smoking and Diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/smoking-and-diabetes.html
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/index.htm#:~:text=Smoking%20causes%20cancer%2C%20heart%20disease,immune%20system%2C%20including%20rheumatoid%20arthritis.

Related tests

Optimal Health Blood Test

Get detailed insights into your current and future wellbeing with our most comprehensive panel, covering 58 biomarkers — the ultimate test for anyone dedicated to living longer in better health

  • Results estimated in 6 working days
  • 58 biomarkers
Advanced Heart Disease Risk Blood Test

Assess your risk factors for heart disease by checking your cholesterol, inflammation, and apolipoproteins A and B

  • Results estimated in 5 working days
  • 11 biomarkers