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Cardiovascular Disease and Metabolic Syndrome: Addressing Root Causes with Functional Medicine

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Cardiovascular Disease and Metabolic Syndrome: Addressing Root Causes with Functional Medicine

Nearly 40% of the US population contends with metabolic syndrome, a complex interaction of obesity, elevated blood pressure, abnormal lipid profiles, and insulin resistance. While each component of metabolic syndrome poses individual health risks, the combination significantly amplifies the risk of developing other health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, and sleep apnea. Functional medicine tests and treatments provide the opportunity to address the root causes of metabolic syndrome, enhancing cardiovascular health and preventing the onset of heart disease.


What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of interconnected physiological abnormalities that significantly increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, an individual must have three of the five following conditions:

  • Elevated blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Low levels of HDL cholesterol
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Large waist circumference

Characterized by a systemic disruption in metabolic homeostasis, underlying causes of metabolic syndrome include physical inactivity, insulin resistance, genetic factors, and increasing age.

The impact of metabolic syndrome on the cardiovascular system is multifaceted. Visceral adiposity releases hormones and inflammatory substances into the bloodstream. This not only contributes to the continued accumulation of visceral fat but also chronic inflammation that promotes the development of atherosclerosis or plaques in the blood vessels. Increases in body weight and adiposity also activate the sympathetic nervous system and renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), which cause vasoconstriction and elevations in blood pressure. 

Insulin resistance disrupts normal glucose and lipid metabolism, increases visceral adiposity, triggers a pro-inflammatory environment, and can also increase sympathetic nervous system activation. Elevated blood pressure and irregular lipid levels further increase the risk of endothelial damage in the blood vessels and subsequent plaque formation. Ultimately, these physiologic changes seen in metabolic syndrome converge to create a perfect storm for cardiovascular complications. 

Functional Medicine Lab Testing for Metabolic Syndrome

In order to diagnose metabolic syndrome, healthcare providers use both physical exams and blood tests. Waist circumference and blood pressure measurements are assessed through a physical exam. A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) includes fasting blood sugar and a lipid panel that measures both triglycerides and HDL cholesterol. 

Advanced functional medicine testing goes beyond conventional parameters, delving into the underlying molecular and physiological imbalances that contribute to this multifaceted condition. These advanced tests provide a personalized roadmap for understanding the root causes of metabolic syndrome on an individual level. They serve as a powerful tool in early detection and intervention, allowing healthcare professionals to tailor targeted interventions that address the unique biochemical intricacies of each patient. This proactive approach empowers individuals to make informed lifestyle modifications, mitigating future cardiovascular risks.

CardioMetabolic Testing

BostonHeart Diagnostics' Expanded Cardiometabolic Panel is an advanced test that goes beyond standard lipid profiles, including measurements of lipoprotein particle numbers and apolipoproteins, which provide better information on cardiovascular risk. Recognizing the association between metabolic syndrome and inflammation, the high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) test detects lower inflammation levels that can damage blood vessels and increase cardiovascular risk. It incorporates the Homeostatic Model of Insulin Resistance (HOMA-IR), calculated based on fasting blood sugar and insulin. Examining hormones like adiponectin, known for enhancing insulin sensitivity, and leptin, which regulates appetite, adds depth to metabolic insights. The panel further explores markers like glycation end products, revealing sugar’s potential negative impact on blood vessels, fibrinogen for clotting risk, and the Omega-3 Index that measures essential fatty acids to provide insights into how dietary fats are impacting cardiovascular risk. By analyzing such a broad range of biomarkers, the test can identify subtle imbalances to intervene earlier and personalize more targeted approaches to managing cardiovascular and metabolic health. 

Micronutrient Test

Metabolic syndrome has been associated with nutrient insufficiencies, such as Vitamin D and magnesium. Certain nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, play a role in protecting against cardiovascular disease. The Micronutrient Test by SpectraCell Laboratories measures 31 vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to assess for any nutritional insufficiencies and create a foundation for personalized dietary recommendations to support optimal cardiometabolic health.


Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, resulting in catecholamine release, cortisol secretion, and activation of the renin-angiotensin system. Elevated cortisol levels and SNS activation can contribute to insulin resistance, hypertension, and inflammation, increasing the likelihood of metabolic syndrome and adverse cardiovascular events. Reproductive hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, also play a role in metabolism and cardiovascular health. The DUTCH Plus by Precision Analytical measures reproductive hormones, adrenal hormones, and organic acids related to neurotransmitter metabolism using both urine and salivary samples to assess how neuroendocrine imbalances might be affecting cardiometabolic health.

Comprehensive Stool Test

The gut microbiome, the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract, plays a vital role in human health, influencing not only digestive processes but also metabolic and cardiovascular functions. The microbiome is metabolically active and produces byproducts, such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), that are absorbed into circulation. Dysbiosis, an imbalance in the normal composition and diversity of gut microorganisms, negatively impacts the production of these metabolites, thereby promoting inflammation, impairing insulin sensitivity, elevating lipids, and increasing the risk of plaque formation. Simultaneously, increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, allows harmful substances, such as bacterial toxins and undigested food particles, to pass from the gut into the bloodstream. This breach of the gut barrier triggers systemic inflammation and activates the immune system, further exacerbating the risk of metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular diseases. 

Genova’s GI Effects test is a comprehensive stool analysis that analyzes the composition and diversity of the microbiome, metabolites like SCFA’s, and gastrointestinal inflammatory markers such as calprotectin. Furthermore, zonulin can be added on, which is a potential indicator of intestinal permeability when elevated. 


The Functional Medicine Perspective on Metabolic Syndrome 

Functional medicine endeavors to uncover the root causes of metabolic imbalances by thoroughly understanding the unique biochemical and physiological makeup of each individual. It views metabolic syndrome in the context of interconnected body systems. Through tailored lifestyle modifications, nutritional strategies, and targeted therapies, functional medicine addresses the specific factors influencing metabolic syndrome in each individual. This personalized approach not only improves the management of metabolic syndrome but also empowers individuals on their journey toward optimal health. 

Addressing Nutritional Imbalances

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in both the development and management of metabolic syndrome. The choices we make in our daily dietary habits exert a profound influence on key components of metabolic syndrome, including obesity, insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, and dyslipidemia. 

Greater intakes of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are inversely associated with the development of metabolic syndrome. Dietary fiber, the parts of plants or carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion, reduces body fat, improves blood sugar, reduces blood pressure, and improves lipid values.  SCFAs, like butyrate, acetate, and propionate, are created when intestinal bacteria ferment dietary fibers. They are responsible for regulating lipid, cholesterol, and glucose metabolism, as well as balancing inflammatory responses and promoting gut barrier integrity. Fiber-rich diets promote the growth of SCFA-producing gut bacteria, which may be one mechanism through which fiber provides cardiometabolic benefits. On the other hand, high intakes of simple sugars and refined grains are associated with a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.  

Moving away from a Western dietary pattern towards a more whole-foods dietary pattern improves cardiometabolic health. Both the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet are recommended for the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. The DASH and Mediterranean diets both emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy, fish, and poultry while limiting saturated and trans fats, sodium, and refined sugar.

Lifestyle Modifications for Metabolic Syndrome

Lifestyle factors play a significant role in both the development and management of metabolic syndrome. Changes to physical activity, diet, sleep, and stress management can all address the root causes of metabolic syndrome, promoting optimal cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of related complications. By adopting and sustaining positive lifestyle changes, individuals can empower themselves to take an active role in optimizing their well-being and longevity. 

Both chronic and repeated acute stress can influence the development of metabolic syndrome. 

Dysfunction in the HPA axis stimulates cortisol release, increasing both glucose and insulin levels, which in turn promotes insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, and visceral adiposity. These characteristics of metabolic syndrome are also critical drivers of cardiovascular risk.  Mind-body therapies, such as yoga and meditation, lower cortisol levels, reduce sympathetic nervous system activity and enhance heart rate variability, a marker of autonomic nervous system balance. By promoting parasympathetic nervous system activity, mind-body therapies contribute to overall physiological resilience, helping to regulate blood sugar, improve lipid profiles, and reduce inflammation (1, 56).

One-third of the global population does not engage in sufficient physical activity. Sedentary behaviors negatively impact cardiometabolic health through reductions in lipid metabolism, muscle glucose uptake, and carbohydrate metabolism. Furthermore, being sedentary decreases cardiac output and circulation alters hormone levels, and increases inflammation and weight gain. Regular physical activity addresses multiple risk factors associated with cardiometabolic disease, including weight management, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure regulation, lipid profile improvement, inflammation reduction, and overall cardiovascular health. Achieving the minimal physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity can improve metabolic risk. Muscular strength is also associated with a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, so individuals should aim for at least two days per week of resistance training as well. of at least two days per week of resistance training. 

Sleep duration influences glucose homeostasis, blood pressure, hormone regulation, nervous system activity, and total energy expenditure (TEE), all of which are related to cardiometabolic disease risk. Short sleep durations, less than 7 hours nightly, are associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, exposing oneself to natural light during the day, ensuring the bedroom is calm, dark, and quiet, minimizing screen time in the evenings, and refraining from consuming heavy meals and caffeine close to bedtime can all help to enhance sleep quality.

Supplements and Herbal Remedies

Supplements and herbal remedies, when strategically incorporated alongside lifestyle interventions, can offer synergistic benefits in addressing the multifaceted nature of metabolic syndrome.


Berberine is a naturally occurring compound found in several plants, including goldenseal, barberry, and Oregon grape. Supplementation with berberine regulates blood glucose and lipids, improves insulin resistance, and reduces inflammation in individuals with metabolic syndrome. One mechanism through which it enhances glucose uptake and lipid metabolism is through its activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an important enzyme involved in cellular metabolism. Berberine may also reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome through its beneficial effects on the gut microbiota. Obese individuals tend to have higher levels of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes in their microbiomes. Berberine can decrease the abundance of Firmicutes while simultaneously increasing Bacteroidetes.


Reductions in microbiome diversity are associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and metabolic issues. Probiotics improve body mass index, blood pressure, glucose metabolism, and lipid levels in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Probiotics also reduce inflammatory markers, such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α). Most studies used strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Akkermansia (44, 47).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, the most functionally important of these fatty acids being eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fatty fish (20). Despite the important role these fatty acids play in cardiometabolic health, intakes of EPA and DHA are generally low in Western diets. Research has shown that EPA and DHA can improve insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and obesity. Furthermore, they aid in vasorelaxation and improve endothelial dysfunction.


Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 different reactions in the body, some of which are important in metabolic syndrome, including glycogen breakdown, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis, insulin receptor activity, cholesterol synthesis, lipid metabolism, and vasodilation. Low magnesium is a risk factor for developing metabolic syndrome, and dietary magnesium intake is inversely associated with the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. In individuals diagnosed with metabolic syndrome who have low magnesium levels, magnesium supplementation improves metabolic syndrome, reducing high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, and triglyceride levels.

Integrating Conventional and Functional Treatments 

The importance of a personalized treatment in treating metabolic syndrome cannot be overstated. Each individual's unique biochemical makeup, genetic predispositions, and lifestyle factors contribute to the manifestation of metabolic imbalances. Integrating functional medicine into the treatment plan allows healthcare providers to tailor interventions specifically to the individual, fostering more optimal and sustained health outcomes. Personalization encompasses lifestyle modifications, dietary adjustments, stress management strategies, and targeted supplementation to address each individual's distinct needs.

Conventional pharmaceutical management of metabolic syndrome often involves multiple pharmaceutical agents, including anti-hypertensive agents, anti-diabetic agents, heart failure drugs, and anti-obesity therapies. Current therapies are varied in terms of their success rates, and multi-drug regimens can cause issues in terms of compliance, side effects, and drug-drug interactions (29). First and foremost, the management of metabolic syndrome should address the modifiable, underlying risk factors, such as obesity, physical inactivity, and atherogenic diet. Then, if the risk is high, pharmaceuticals can be incorporated to target elevated lipids, blood pressure, and glucose levels (16). Not only can incorporating additional lifestyle modifications improve the chances of medications working, but they also enhance other health benefits, including lower risk of complications like coronary artery disease and stroke, as well as improved mood. 


Cardiovascular Disease and Metabolic Syndrome: Key Takeaways

Addressing metabolic syndrome through functional medicine offers a comprehensive and personalized approach to improving heart health. Advanced testing explores the interconnected, underlying factors that contribute to metabolic imbalances such as dysbiosis, stress, hormone imbalances, and micronutrient insufficiencies and allows for the creation of tailored treatment strategies for each patient. Metabolic syndrome is associated with a 2-fold increase in cardiovascular outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction (MI), and stroke, as well as a 1.5-fold increase in all-cause mortality. By effectively addressing the underlying risk factors and components of metabolic syndrome, such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, and insulin resistance, patients can significantly reduce their future cardiovascular risk.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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