Have you ever heard about metabolic syndrome? It basically consists of a combination of signs and symptoms which, though not representing a specific pathological picture, predispose to the so-called Western diseases (obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, tumours, etc.). As a matter of fact, a metabolic syndrome can be diagnosed by the presence of two (or more) of the following values:

• Glycemia> 110 mg./dl.
• Insulin> 10 mU/ml.
• Triglycerides> 150 mg./dl.
• HDL Cholesterol < 40 mg./dl. (50 if woman)
• Abdominal circumference > 101.6 cm (88.9 if woman)
• Arterial pressure > 85-130 mm Hg.

The parameter Uricemia > 5.0 mg./dl. is likely to be added soon to this list: it has been noticed, in fact, that high levels of uric acid could predispose to the development of metabolic disorders. In developed countries the metabolic syndrome prevalence oscillates between 27 to 35% in adult population and is directly linked to the prevalence of diabetes and obesity and indirectly to all the diseases that could arise from them. Currently, the metabolic syndrome represents for humans the doorway to the most common diseases and to premature death. But almost nobody knows that the metabolic syndrome is not an exclusive prerogative of the human race: as a matter of fact, it also affects many other animal species. But difference is represented by a single key factor: for all the species the metabolic syndrome represents an effective adaptive mechanism which allows the animals to live longer, while for us it becomes a cause of death. Let’s see the reason why this happens.

Have you ever wondered why in summer and autumn brown bears wander across alpine valleys, raiding fruits and honey? And again, have you ever wondered how grey geese can find the energies to fly (on a empty stomach) for more than 3000 miles during their seasonal migrations? Or how Minke whales can swim (fasting) for more than 5000 nautical miles, when they move from Antarctica to Mexican Bay during mating seasons? Did you know that during egg incubation a male penguin can fast for more than 2 months? I could carry on mentioning other animals, as locusts, frogs, squirrels, marmots, hummingbirds, and many others, all capable of similar miracles.

If you are wondering what their secret is, well, the answer is pretty simple: before the fulfilment of these deeds, which could be a threat to their own lives (because of hibernations, aestivations, migrations, etc.) all of them develop a metabolic syndrome. Why? Because the only way known to animals to survive big physical efforts or starving periods is to increase the glucose and triglycerides levels in the blood and to put on weight. In other words, it’s known in nature that a pre-diabetic status actually an effective survival technique, to be used in extreme situations. All these animal species have – as men do – a metabolic switch, that, when activated, allows them to develop this syndrome.

Activating this switch is easy: the level of uric acid found in cells has to improve and exceed a critical level, after which body predisposes itself to a combined state of insulin and leptin resistance which causes a pre-diabetic condition, and leads to a weight gain. In other words, the body is forced into an emergency mode and prepares itself to face it in the best way possible. Increasing uric acid level is very simple: all you have to do is eating food rich in fructose (mature fruits, honey and flower nectar), or rich in purines and RNA (anchovies, herrings, mackerels, small shellfish, sweetbreads, livers, brains, etc.). and that’s exactly what these animals do. For animals, though, this metabolic status caused by hyperuricemia is always temporary; it’s alternated with fasting periods or great physical efforts, that allows the metabolism to be reset and therefore restored. If we actually analyse the blood of these animals at the end of their deeds, all the parameters that were altered before are suddenly back to normality.

This explains why it’s different for human beings: men are able to use the exact same metabolic mechanism, as well as the same switch. Men too learned how to stuff themselves with food rich in fructose (fruit juices, sugars, honey, HFCS, fructose syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, etc.) and rich in RNA and purines (think about beer, which is the richest aliment in RNA). The problem is that men eat that aliments all year long, without fasting or without facing great physical efforts, and, in so doing, the switch is always activated and becomes, after a while, the source of an explicit pathology. Easy to understand, don’t you think?

And easy to demonstrate too: in fact, if we give to a group of young people a 10% fructose solution in addition to their normal diet for a couple of weeks, we cause the development of a real metabolic syndrome. But as soon as we stop this administration (or if we add an inhibitor of uric acid synthesis), the metabolism is reset in a couple of weeks and everything goes back to normality (http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v34/n3/abs/ijo2009259a.html). Amazing, isn’t it?

It’s weird that the majority of doctors and researchers have never noticed this fact; it’s weird that a vet never suggested to a doctor this similarity between humans and animals. We recently started, in our university research departments, to batten down the hatches, trying to use drugs inhibitors of uric acid, or of fructose metabolism (not on the market yet) to fight the metabolic syndrome; most of the doctors prescribe drugs which reduce the amount of plasma lipids, or anti-inflammatory drugs, or coagulation inhibitor drugs, that – as it’s well known – don’t solve the problem and cause a series of collateral effects, including – paradoxically – an increasing level of uric acid. Drugs, in other words, seem to improve the situation but they actually complicate it. Nobody has ever thought about explaining people what to do to prevent or treat in a natural way these pathologies, but that’s not weird if we think about the huge amount of money coming from the sell of sugar added foods or drugs for the treatment of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

Look what other animals do: they don’t need to consult nutritionists or take medicines, they already know how to perfectly reset their own metabolism as soon as emergency’s over, and they use the metabolic syndrome in an adaptive way, instead of make a disease out of it. If you are interested in knowing more about this issue, I would strongly recommend you read: Johnson RJ, The Fat Switch.

Translation by Veronica Costantino