Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2020

Junk food increases risk of metabolic syndrome

November 19, 2015

SONNY ABESAMIS/ CC-BY-2.0 Occasionally indulging can increase your risk of metabolic syndrome.


This Thanksgiving you may want to think twice before indulging in extra turkey and dessert. Researchers in the Netherlands have found that overeating unhealthy foods, even if not regularly, can catalyze signs of the beginnings of metabolic disease. Metabolic disease (also called metabolic syndrome) is a cluster of different medical conditions such as obesity, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It is typically caused by obesity and inactivity but has also been linked to insulin resistance. People whose bodies don’t respond properly to insulin are at an increased risk for both metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Doctors typically recommend that patients with metabolic syndrome start exercising, adopt healthier eating habits and lose weight. While studying this condition, the researchers comprehensively conducted blood tests to study 61 biomarkers in subjects before and after they consumed sweets such as a high-calorie milkshake. They only examined the effect on men in this study. There were two groups of male volunteers: 10 healthy men in the first group and nine men with metabolic syndrome in the second. The men in the second group all had two or more risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol or abdominal fat. They gave the healthy men a diet that included an extra 1,300 calories a day in snacks such as candy bars and potato chips for four weeks. After analyzing their blood at the end of the four weeks, the researchers found that the men were showing signs of negative health effects similar to those displayed by members of the group with metabolic syndrome. Signaling molecules in the blood such as hormones that regulate fat metabolism and inflammation were particularly affected. This produced effects similar to those experienced by patients with early-stage metabolic disease. “Acute effects of diet are mostly small, but may have large consequences in the long run,” Suzan Wopereis, one of the study researchers, said in a press release. Wopereis and the other scientists involved in the study are members of the TNO Microbiology and Systems Biology Group in Zeist (which is in the Netherlands). The researchers believe that the results of the study show the detrimental effects that just one unhealthy snack can have on our bodies. They hope it will bring attention to the need for disease prevention rather than just disease treatment. “Our novel approach allows detection of small but relevant effects, thereby contributing to the urgently-needed switch from disease-care to health-care, aiming for a life-long optimal health and disease prevention,” Wopereis said. Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) journal, shed more light on the implications of this study. “Eating junk food is one of those situations where our brains say ‘yes’ and our bodies say ‘no,’” Weissmann said in a press release. “Unfortunately for us, this report shows that we need to use our brains and listen to our bodies. Even one unhealthy snack has negative consequences that extend far beyond any pleasure it brings.” This study appeared in the Nov. 2015 issue of the FASEB Journal.

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