Treatment of metabolic syndrome

Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2004 Mar;2(2):213-28. doi: 10.1586/14779072.2.2.213.


The metabolic syndrome is intended to identify patients who have increased risk of diabetes and/or a cardiac event due to the deleterious effects of weight gain, sedentary lifestyle, and/or an atherogenic diet. The National Cholesterol Education Program's Adult Treatment Panel III definition uses easily measured clinical findings of increased abdominal circumference, elevated triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, elevated fasting blood glucose and/or elevated blood pressure. Three of these five are required for diagnosis. The authors also note that other definitions of metabolic syndrome focus more on insulin resistance and its key role in this syndrome. This review focuses on how treatment might affect each of the five components. Abdominal obesity can be treated with a variety of lower calorie diets along with regular exercise. Indeed, all of the five components of the metabolic syndrome are improved by even modest amounts of weight loss achieved with diet and exercise. For those with impaired fasting glucose tolerance, there is good evidence that a high fiber, low saturated fat diet with increased daily exercise can reduce the incidence of diabetes by almost 60%. Of note, subjects who exercise the most, gain the most benefit. Metformin has also been shown to be helpful in these subjects. Thiazolidinedione drugs may prove useful, but further studies are needed. Although intensified therapeutic lifestyle change will help the abnormal lipid profile, some patients may require drug therapy. This review also discusses the use of statins, fibrates, and niacin. Likewise, while hypertension in the metabolic syndrome benefits from therapeutic lifestyle change, physicians should also consider angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor drugs or angiotensin receptor blockers, due to their effects on preventing complications of diabetes, such as progression of diabetic nephropathy and due to their effects on regression of left ventricular hypertrophy. Aspirin should be considered in those with at least a 10% risk of a coronary event over 10 years. Finally, three related conditions, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome and protease inhibitor associated lipodystrophy improve with therapeutic lifestyle change. Although metformin is shown to be useful with polycystic ovary syndrome, the data supporting drug therapy for the other syndromes is less convincing. More robust studies are needed before any firm recommendations can be made.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen
  • Adipose Tissue
  • Antihypertensive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Blood Pressure
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy*
  • Diet, Atherogenic
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / etiology
  • Hyperlipidemias / therapy*
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Hypertension / therapy*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Life Style*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / therapy*
  • Risk Factors
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Blood Glucose
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Hypolipidemic Agents
  • Triglycerides