August's Wellness Topic: Digestive Health
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Dr. Linda Lee
Digestive Health

High Blood Sugar, High Blood Pressure, and More: "Syndrome X"
by Linda Lee

Syndrome X. It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. But what it really refers to is the metabolic syndrome, a group of health issues that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and the accumulation of too much belly fat around the abdominal organs. Those who have all these findings are at higher risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.

So how do you know if you have too much belly fat? Belly fat, otherwise known as visceral fat, is found within the abdominal cavity beneath the muscles of the abdominal wall. If your body is shaped more like an apple than a pear, then you might have too much belly fat.

But to know for sure, you can simply measure your waist size with a tape measure placed around your abdomen just above your hipbones. Don't pull the tape too tightly, and breathe lightly. A man might have too much belly fat if his waist circumference is more than 40 inches, whereas a woman with a waist circumference of more than 35 inches probably has too much belly fat.

Having too much belly fat leads to the production of chemicals that affect your immune system and increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease. Belly fat also increases estrogen production within tissues, which can be a risk factor for breast and colon cancer.

Believe it or not, it's possible to lose belly fat with diet and exercise. And losing this fat is still worthwhile even if you already have diabetes. It takes a lot of work, though, and the changes I am suggesting you make to your diet and exercise routine are intended to last a lifetime.

The first step is to start with a healthy diet that includes fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Try to avoid foods made from refined flours (pizza dough, pretzels, bagels, etc.), because these types of carbohydrates are absorbed so rapidly in your small intestine that they raise your blood sugar and insulin levels. And those high insulin levels cause your body to store all those ingested refined carbs as fat!

Eat good carbs, found in beans and whole grains, but watch your portion sizes. If you have a computer or a smartphone, use one of several handy nutrition websites or apps to keep track of your portion sizes and how many calories you eat each day. When you pay attention to everything you eat, even for just a few days, you will be amazed at how you suddenly become mindful of everything that passes through your lips.

Only after you have first made some major changes to your diet should you take the next step, of starting an exercise routine. Start by taking walks after meals because this helps to lower your glucose and insulin levels. Try to get in 10,000 steps a day if you can. A pedometer can help you keep track. Over time, walking (or jogging) a total of 20 miles in a week can help decrease the amount of belly fat you have. Sit-ups or abdominal crunches might tone your abdominal wall muscles, but they won't melt away the belly fat like walking does.

So, walk, walk, walk. Park your car as far away from your destinations as you can. Take the stairs or the long way around. And if you continue this walking routine even after you have lost weight, you will help keep the belly fat from coming back.

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