The Key to Metabolic Syndrome Has Been There All Along. It's Low Carb.

Nov 16, 2005

“Metabolic syndrome,” originally called “Syndrome X” is a cluster of conditions that may occur simultaneously and indicate a risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Since 1988, when it was first described by Gerald Reaven of Stanford University, it has been recognized that a combination of metabolic markers - obesity, high triglycerides (fat in the blood), low HDL (“good cholesterol”), high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and insulin resistance - seemed to occur together in many people at high risk for diabetes or heart disease, an estimated 25% of adult Americans. The incidence of the syndrome rises with age.

The medical community has had difficulty in defining effective non-drug treatments for metabolic syndrome, but in an article published today, researchers studying data already in the medical literature, reveal that the features of Metabolic Syndrome are precisely those that are improved by restricting dietary carbohydrate.

The results published today in Nutrition and Metabolism (available without subscription at show, further, that major research studies using low-fat diets (if fat is replaced with carbohydrate) actually made the markers of Metabolic Syndrome worse in study subjects.

“It was staring us in the face, but it took a while to make the connection,” says author Richard Feinman, a Biochemistry Professor at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. "Make a list of the features of metabolic syndrome," says first author Jeff Volek of the University of Connecticut. "Then, make a list of the things that carbohydrate restriction is good at fixing. They're the same list. Somehow, we never really noticed that." Volek, the researcher who did much of the experimental work behind the new study, adds, “The cause of metabolic syndrome is often linked to disruption of insulin. Thus, the key to treating metabolic syndrome is to control insulin and carbohydrates are the major stimulus for insulin.

“The most obvious factor in the obesity epidemic is the drastic increase in carbohydrate consumption in recent years and the decrease in fat consumption,” Feinman points out, “so the story is consistent. I think people have learned the value of reducing carbohydrates during the media popularization of low-carb diets, but they are still making it hard for themselves by also trying to reduce fat, when fat seems to be much less important a factor than carbohydrates.”

“I think official agencies are trying to back off from recommending high carbs and low fat across the board,” Feinman added, “so I think there are real signs of progress. The bottom line is that if you reduce carbohydrates, you can be less concerned about your fat intake, and that often makes it much easier to stick to a beneficial new diet or lifestyle change.”

“Because we have a very specific focus, metabolic syndrome, we hope this can be a corner of the debate on diet that we can all agree on,” Feinman says, “There are health considerations beyond metabolic syndrome and individual practitioners can decide which to emphasize.”

Feinman and Volek are also organizers of the upcoming conference on Carbohydrate Restriction to be held at the Brooklyn Marriott in January of 2006 that will explore basic applications and the underlying biochemistry (



About SUNY Downstate Medical Center

SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively.

SUNY Downstate ranks twelfth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.