Metabolic Syndrome, sometimes referred to as the plague of the modern era, traces its roots back to the period of rapid urbanization around the time of ancient Greece. Prior to this, most humans were hunter-gatherers and demanded that their bodies support a vigorous lifestyle with swings in food availability.
Hunting and gathering required humans to efficiently store and retrieve energy to accommodate intermittent periods of feast and famine. They ate when food was available, worked hard to find and prepare it and during periods of scarcity had to survive off of their fat stores. Although there were often daily variations in the amount of food intake and calorie-burn, in aggregate their calorie output matched their calorie intake. Most premature deaths at this time were likely a result of injury, war or infectious disease.
As the agricultural movement began to take shape, early humans developed food sources rich in starches; rice, corn, grains and potatoes. These calorie-rich fuels provided an easier source of subsistence but since farming and food preparation was still a very labour-intensive activity their calorie intake was matched by the calories they burned.
As civilizations began to emerge and humans became urbanized they increased their dependence on calorie-rich foods. But now rather than working alone, humans began to work in teams, cultivating food sources on a larger scale with greater ease. As a result, calorie-burn began to diminish and calorie consumption increased. A caloric imbalance began to take place. Excess energy was stored in the body as triglycerides and free fatty acids. Except for prolonged periods of famine they had a good source of food nearby and those stored triglycerides and fatty acids became largely unnecessary.
The same biochemistry that once supported a hunter-gatherer lifestyle has not adjusted to the modern lifestyle. We know consuming more calories than we burn causes a variety of health issues. Blood pressure rises with age – often in lock-step with fat stores that have accumulated in the artery walls. Blood glucose rises as visceral fat stores increase, LDL or “bad cholesterol” and other fat stores known as triglycerides go up just at the time protective HDL or “good cholesterol” is in decline. Although every human body is slightly different and body chemistry dictates to a certain degree health outcomes, one thing remains clear: our bodies operate best when we balance caloric intake with our levels of activity. When we do not, we begin to observe health issues related to our metabolic system.
Metabolic disorders are known to cause arteriosclerosis, diabetes and hypertension. A decade ago we called it “Syndrome X” but we now refer to this cluster of health issues as Metabolic Syndrome.