Ten Plant-based Remedies for Metabolic Syndrome

Are you overweight, high in cholesterol level and blood pressure, and experiencing rising blood glucose? Chances are, you may have metabolic syndrome. This is not a single disease, but a collection of indicators putting you on the high-risk category of have cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack or stroke.

High blood sugar reading is an indication of insulin resistance. A necessary condition for metabolic syndrome.

Definition of metabolic syndrome

Although there are many different definitions for metabolic syndrome, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as follows [1]:

Presence of insulin resistance or glucose > 6.1 mmol/L (110 mg/dl), 2 h glucose > 7.8 mmol (140 mg/dl) as a necessary condition and any two or more of the following:

  1. HDL cholesterol < 0.9 mmol/L (35 mg/dl) in men, < 1.0 mmol/L  (40 mg/dl) in women
  2. Triglycerides > 1.7 mmol/L (150 mg/dl)
  3. Waist/hip ratio > 0.9 (men) or > 0.85 (women) or BMI > 30 kg/m2
  4. Blood pressure > 140/90 mmHg

Metabolic syndrome is widespread, especially for people living in the urban environment. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that about 25% of the world population can be classified with this condition [2]. Metabolic syndrome not only affects older adults but also younger one in the 18 to 30 years old. About 4.8–7% of young adults are also having this condition [2].

Metabolic syndrome is predominantly a lifestyle condition!

While genetics may play a role in some cases, metabolic syndrome is predominantly a lifestyle condition. An inappropriate diet that is high in animal food and low in fruits and vegetable, coupled with a lack of physical activities are often the leading factors for developing such a condition [3].

To address the condition, losing weight through a change in diet and increasing exercise is a must. Plus, you can also leverage on these ten plant-based remedies to improve one or more of the risk indicators.

1. Garlic

Garlic can help to lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Eat more!

Garlic (Allium sativum) is not only used in traditional cuisine as a spice, but it is also a traditional medicine with more than 5000 years of history [4]. A lot of research is done to confirm that garlic to help in lowering blood sugar (anti-diabetic), blood pressure (hypotensive), and cholesterol (hypolipidemic).  It can also help in weight loss. For example, in a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of 40 adult women with metabolic syndrome, women taking garlic tablets (1.8 g/d) for six weeks had significantly lower weight and waist circumference compared to those taking placebo [5].

2. Cinnamon

Savouring a few cups cinnamon tea daily can be a good way to reduce your risk of hyperglycaemia.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is another medicine plant useful for this condition. The active ingredients within cinnamon are cinnamaldehyde, cinnamate, cinnamic acid and eugenol. Extracts of cinnamon show that it can be a protective agent for cardiovascular disease with its anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties. It is an all-rounder herb suitable for addressing metabolic syndrome [6].

3. Globe Artichoke

Artichoke leaf extract can effectively lower cholesterol levels.

Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is best known for being a liver protecting herb. It is also useful for the management of obesity, which is the defining characteristic of metabolic syndrome. Globe artichoke is known to suppress sugar absorption from the digestive tract by reducing the α-amylase enzyme activity. It can also stimulate the secretion of bile acids and thus lower the cholesterol and increase the body’s metabolism [7]. Artichoke is also used extensively in the Mediterranean diet, often recommended for metabolic syndrome.

4. Huang Lian (黄连)

The bitter Huang Lian contains berberine that is beneficial to the cardiovascular system.

Huang lian (Rhizoma Coptidis) is a traditional Chinese herb best known for its bitterness in taste. It is one of the most common components used in Chinese medicine formulation for treating obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. It contains berberine as an active ingredient which has been demonstrated to have protective effects on the cardiovascular system [8]. 

5. Ginseng

Ginseng is not only helpful for the immune system. It is also suitable for losing weight.

Many people know ginseng (Panax ginseng) as a traditional herb for boosting the immune system, not many are aware that it can also induce weight-loss. Ginseng contains ginsenosides, which can help the body to burn more energy and change the composition of fat cells [9]. However, some people are worried about the possibility that ginseng may cause blood pressure to rise. A meta-analysis that combined the data of 1,381 participants from 17 studies found that there is no evidence showing that consumption of ginseng does not affect both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Hence, it is safe to use ginseng to address metabolic syndrome  [10].  

6. Bitter Melon

Bitter melon is a good addition to any diet for blood sugar balancing.

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is widely used as a vegetable in Asia. The fruit extract of this vegetable has potent antioxidant and hypoglycaemic activities. It can also help to lose weight and reduce fat in the body [11]. No doubt, anyone with metabolic syndrome should include this vegetable in the diet regularly.    

7. Red Yeast Rice

Red yeast rice has monacolin K, a natural blood cholesterol lowering compound (statins).

Red yeast rice is the fermented rice traditionally used in making Chinese wine. It is fermentation product of a species of mould (Monascus purpureus) that has a unique purplish-red in colour. Research has shown that red yeast rice has monacolin K as its bioactive compound, which acts as natural statins that can help to lower blood cholesterol. Many other benefits of red yeast rice include controlling high blood pressure, counter inflammation, reduce blood sugar, prevent cancer, and improve bone strength [12].

9. Natto

Natto on rice – a traditional Japanese breakfast, one of the reasons for the longevity of the population.

Natto is made from soybeans fermented with a type of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. It is a traditional food in Japanese culture. The Japanese claim that eating natto is one of the reasons for the longevity of the population [13]. We now know that nattokinase, the most active ingredient of natto, can help to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases [14]. For people with metabolic syndrome, nattokinase is a remedy that can not only lower blood pressure and cholesterol, it can also help to prevent heart attack and stroke through lower the risks of building up plaque in the arteries, forming of the blood clot. It is also a natural blood thinning agent with no unwanted side-effects like pharmaceutical drugs [14].     

10. Flaxseed/Linseed

Flaxseeds are rich in lignans, a type of phytoestrogens helpful for metabolic syndrome.

Finally, I will recommend flaxseed (also known as linseed). This is the seed of the plant officially known as Linum usitatissimum. Yellow or reddish brown in colour, flaxseed has a nutty flavour and is one of the richest sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid (α-linolenic acid). Supplementing diet with flaxseed is shown to have an effect in reducing blood pressure. A meta-analysis of 11 clinical trials found it to significantly lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure [15]. It is helpful for metabolic syndrome. 

Summary

Metabolic syndrome is defined as having insulin resistance with a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol. Garlic, cinnamon, global artichoke, huang lian, ginseng, bitter melon, red yeast rice, natto, and flaxseed are some plant-based food and herbal remedies that can be used to address this condition.  

Don’t forget to eat healthily!

References

[1]        M.G. Saklayen, The Global Epidemic of the Metabolic Syndrome, Curr. Hypertens. Rep. 20 (2018) 12. doi:10.1007/s11906-018-0812-z.

[2]        P.B. Nolan, G. Carrick-Ranson, J.W. Stinear, S.A. Reading, L.C. Dalleck, Prevalence of metabolic syndrome and metabolic syndrome components in young adults: A pooled analysis, Prev. Med. Reports. 7 (2017) 211–215. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2017.07.004.

[3]        P. Verma, R. Srivastava, D. Jain, Association of lifestyle risk factors with metabolic syndrome components: A cross-sectional study in Eastern India, Int. J. Prev. Med. 9 (2018) 6. doi:10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_236_17.

[4]        A. Hosseini, H. Hosseinzadeh, A review on the effects of Allium sativum (Garlic) in metabolic syndrome, J. Endocrinol. Invest. 38 (2015) 1147–1157. doi:10.1007/s40618-015-0313-8.

[5]        S. Faranak, S. Abdolkarim, B. Mahnaz, M. Nouraddin, Effect of garlic on serum adiponectin and interleukin levels in women with metabolic syndrome, Int. J. Endocrinol. Metab. 8 (2010) 68–73.

[6]        H. Mollazadeh, H. Hosseinzadeh, Cinnamon effects on metabolic syndrome: a review based on its mechanisms, Iran. J. Basic Med. Sci. 19 (2016) 1258–1270. doi:10.22038/ijbms.2016.7906.

[7]        M. Mahboubi, Cynara scolymus (artichoke) and its efficacy in management of obesity, Bull. Fac. Pharmacy, Cairo Univ. 56 (2018) 115–120. doi:10.1016/J.BFOPCU.2018.10.003.

[8]        H.-L. Tan, K.-G. Chan, P. Pusparajah, A. Duangjai, S. Saokaew, T. Mehmood Khan, L.-H. Lee, B.-H. Goh, Rhizoma Coptidis: A Potential Cardiovascular Protective Agent, Front. Pharmacol. 7 (2016) 362. doi:10.3389/fphar.2016.00362.

[9]        Z. Li, G.E. Ji, Ginseng and obesity, J. Ginseng Res. 42 (2018) 1–8. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jgr.2016.12.005.

[10]      A.M. Komishon, E. Shishtar, V. Ha, J.L. Sievenpiper, R.J. de Souza, E. Jovanovski, H.V.T. Ho, L.S. Duvnjak, V. Vuksan, The effect of ginseng (genus Panax) on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials, J. Hum. Hypertens. 30 (2016) 619. https://doi.org/10.1038/jhh.2016.18.

[11]      M.A. Alam, R. Uddin, N. Subhan, M.M. Rahman, P. Jain, H.M. Reza, Beneficial role of bitter melon supplementation in obesity and related complications in metabolic syndrome, J. Lipids. 2015 (2015) 496169. doi:10.1155/2015/496169.

[12]      S. Patel, Functional food red yeast rice (RYR) for metabolic syndrome amelioration: a review on pros and cons, World J. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 32 (2016) 1–12. doi:10.1007/s11274-016-2035-2.

[13]      C. Nagata, K. Wada, T. Tamura, K. Konishi, Y. Goto, S. Koda, T. Kawachi, M. Tsuji, K. Nakamura, Dietary soy and natto intake and cardiovascular disease mortality in Japanese adults: the Takayama study, Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 105 (2016) 426–431. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.137281.

[14]      H. Chen, E.M. McGowan, N. Ren, S. Lal, N. Nassif, F. Shad-Kaneez, X. Qu, Y. Lin, Nattokinase: A Promising Alternative in Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases, Biomark. Insights. 13 (2018) 1177271918785130–1177271918785130. doi:10.1177/1177271918785130.

[15]      S. Khalesi, C. Irwin, M. Schubert, Flaxseed Consumption May Reduce Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials, J. Nutr. 145 (2015) 758–765. doi:10.3945/jn.114.205302.

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