What is Cardiometabolic Health, Anyway?


One of the hazards of seeing health information online is that we frequently encounter buzzwords of questionable use. Some of these terms are frankly dumb, ultimately useless, and will be deservedly forgotten by the next news cycle.

But some of them—like cardiometabolic— are actually worth paying attention to.

The term cardiometabolic is usually used as a descriptor, as in “cardiometabolic health” or “cardiometabolic disease”. In fact, cardiometabolic health has now become a lot more than a buzz term. It’s an important (and attainable) goal for many people seeking optimal health and longevity.

Let me explain.

“Cardiometabolic” refers to a cluster of conditions (like high blood pressure) that aren’t by themselves diseases but are the underlying conditions which frequently lead to serious illness. None of these conditions are “good” things to have, but when several of them are clustered together in the same person, it becomes, as they say, a “thing”, and that person is now said to have Cardiometabolic Syndrome (CMS).

Cardiometabolic Syndrome is a “thing”

CMS used to be called Metabolic Syndrome and is also known as pre-diabetes. (They’re exactly the same thing.) The cluster of conditions was first named “Syndrome X” back in the 80’s by Gerald Reaven, MD,  the Stanford researcher who first discovered their importance. “Syndrome X”, eventually morphed into Metabolic Syndrome, and is now known as Cardiometabolic Syndrome. Both the Endocrine Society and the World Health Organization now officially recognize CMS as a disease entity, and according to all the latest research, it is a global health threat of staggering proportions.

So what are the five conditions that define cardiometabolic syndrome?

  1. High blood pressure
  2. Abdominal obesity (waist higher than 35 for women, 40 for men)
  3. High fasting blood sugar
  4. Low HDL cholesterol
  5. Insulin resistance*

*(Insulin resistance is so central to this discussion that I’ll give it its own newsletter soon. I think it’s the metabolic plague of the 21st century and one of the most important and overlooked risk factors for all kinds of conditions you definitely don’t want to have.)

And while it isn’t part of the official list of the five bad guys, a strong argument could be made for including a sixth villain: High triglycerides. (I’ll talk about that in a future blog. I’m convinced it’s just as important as the other five.)

If you have any (or several, or all) of these conditions, you need to pay attention. And if you don’t know if you have one or more of these, you need to find out. (I’ll be talking more about how to do that in future blogs).

For now, get out your most recent blood test take a look at the following numbers, and see if they are “in range”:

  1. Fasting blood sugar (glucose)
  2. Triglycerides
  3. HDL cholesterol
  4. Fasting insulin (if you were lucky enough to have found a doctor wise enough to order that test for you).

Then measure your waistline. If it’s over 35” (for a woman) or over 40” (for a man) you meet the technical criteria for the fifth condition that defines CMS– abdominal obesity.

In future blogs, we’ll be talking about what each of these metrics tells us, how to make sense of that information, and—most important—what you can do to improve any of the numbers you’re not happy with.

The good news is that—with the possible exception of HDL—all of them can be significantly improved with lifestyle redirection.

Spoiler alert: The big guns in your arsenal are food, supplements, sleep, sun, and stress-reduction!

More to come!

Stay healthy,