By Maggie Fox
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As many as one in three Americans has a condition called insulin resistance syndrome, putting them at high risk of diabetes and heart disease, a panel of doctors said on Tuesday.
But diet and exercise can take care of the condition in many, if not most, cases, and a few simple tests can tell doctors and patients who is at most risk, the experts said.
In insulin resistance syndrome, also known as metabolic syndrome or syndrome X, a person loses his or her ability to manage insulin effectively. More and more people–children as well as adults–are developing the condition as the population eats more and exercises less.
Left untreated, the syndrome can develop into diabetes as well as heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver and perhaps some cancers, including colon and ovarian cancer.
On Tuesday a committee of experts from four top medical organizations–the American College of Endocrinology, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists ( news – web sites), American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine–issued official guidance on how to diagnose the condition.
“As the prevalence of insulin resistance syndrome has skyrocketed 61% in the last decade, it is crucial that medical professionals have consistent and definitive criteria to assess this serious condition,” Dr. Daniel Einhorn of the Scripps Whittier Institute for Diabetes in La Jolla, California, and co-chair of the panel, told a news conference.
“We feel that as many as one in three Americans have this,” Einhorn added in an interview.
Einhorn said pediatricians report that 7- to 10-year-old children are developing metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes–once seen only in adults.
“We never saw this before,” Einhorn said. “Pediatricians are having to learn about adult medications.”
No single test can identify insulin resistance syndrome, but measurements of weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose tolerance can. One quick check that people can do at home is waist circumference, the experts said–men with 40-inch waists and women with 35-inch waists are at higher risk.
Details are available on the Internet at http://www.aace.com.
Other indications a person may have insulin resistance syndrome are polycystic ovary syndrome, which Einhorn believes may affect up to one in 10 women. The condition is marked by infertility, excess facial hair and obesity.
In addition, there is a skin condition, acanthosis nigricans, linked with the syndrome.
What can patients do if diagnosed with insulin resistance?
“It doesn’t require draconian measures,” Einhorn said. Losing 5% to 10% of total body weight will help a good deal–and studies show that as little as 20 minutes of extra exercise such as brisk walking, 5 days a week, can help most people lose that much weight.
It is not necessary to cut out all sweets, he added. And like many doctors, Einhorn does not believe claims that carbohydrates are to blame for obesity.
“It is not any one thing that’s the culprit,” Einhorn said. “It’s not just the fast food. It’s not just the pastries. It’s a combination of genetics and the diseases of modern living–obesity and sedentary living.”