Richard G. Petty, MD

How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Needle? Moving Beyond the Metabolic Syndrome

I have written a great deal both on this blog and in scholarly articles, about insulin resistance and the insulin resistance and metabolic syndromes.

You will have noticed that I’ve always used the term insulin resistance syndrome.

This is not a matter of semantics. For years now I’ve been worried about the splitting that’s been going on in the field: we currently have six sets of definitions of the metabolic syndrome. And apart from the fun of going to all those conferences in exotic parts of the world, you have to ask what’s been achieved by these ever more divisive attempts to “define” the medical consequences of insulin resistance.

The American Diabetes Association has begun to promote the concept of “cardiometabolic risk.” The Association has established a national Cardiometabolic Risk Initiative (CMRI) to stress the association between diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The idea of introducing this umbrella term is to help people better understand and manage all diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors, and to side-step some of the controversy surrounding the definition of insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome and which cluster of variables are in and out.

A new Cardiometabolic Risk (CMR) Calculator to help us evaluate an individual’s risk of diabetes or vascular disease should be available by the end of the year.
The formula already includes factors such as:
1.    Body mass index
2.    Waist circumference ratio
3.    Fasting plasma glucose
4.    HDL-cholesterol
5.    LDL-cholesterol
6.    Triglycerides
7.    Apolipoprotein B
8.    Blood pressure
9.    C-reactive protein
10.  Age
11.  Sex
12.  Race/ethnic origin
13.  Family history
14.  Tobacco use

Part of the reason for this new initiative is the discovery that pre-diabetes, or impaired fasting glucose, where plasma glucose levels are 100-125 mg/dl, is associated with a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease risk factors such as obesity, hypertension and dyslipidemias.

The person who first proposed the insulin resistance syndrome, a.k.a. syndrome X, a.k.a. metabolic syndrome, is Gerald Reaven who first recognized the syndrome in a landmark paper in 1988. He recently gave a lecture entitled; “Insulin Resistance Versus Metabolic Syndrome: Different Names, Different Concepts, Different Goals.” I am in complete agreement with his basic proposition, which is that insulin resistance explains the clustering of all of the components that make up the metabolic syndrome. So Gerry’s position is that there’s no point in trying to make a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome: everything is due to insulin resistance.

So instead of wasting time and resources in trying to diagnose metabolic syndrome, it is much better to understand the pathophysiology: what is going on at the molecular level, how these processes produce risk factors, and whether we can predict others. We should identify and treat each of the underlying processes and the complications of insulin resistance. If we are going to have a syndrome, it should be called insulin resistance syndrome.

And let’s stop these academic debates and get on with the job at hand: there is a 600% variation in peoples’ ability to have insulin transport glucose into cells. More than half the US population is destined to develop at least some degree of insulin resistance, so we need to look for better ways to identify people who have it, and to apply the principles of integrated medicine to keeping them healthy.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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