The 5 Metabolic Markers You Need to Know

When it comes to managing your metabolic health, there are 5 main markers you need to know. Learn what they are, what numbers you should be aiming for, and how to manage your metabolic health in this article.

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by
Kelsey Kunik, RDN
— Signos
RDN
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
March 1, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Your definition of healthy could look a lot different than your partners or neighbors'; in some ways, health can be relatively subjective. We know that weight alone is not a good indicator of health, but you can measure a number of other things to help build a picture of how healthy you are (or aren’t). 

Metabolic health helps us look at health by way of several processes that help our bodies function optimally. These include blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, waist circumference, and triglycerides. Inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, ferritin, uric acid, and Gamma-glutamyltransferase can also be measured to evaluate metabolic health.1 These measures help provide a clearer method to evaluate health; unfortunately, only 1 in 8 Americans are considered metabolically healthy.2

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Why Metabolic Health Matters

Poor metabolic health can lead to what is known as metabolic syndrome, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other serious health conditions. The presence of any three of these conditions can qualify you for metabolic syndrome: 

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High triglycerides
  • Low HDL/ High LDL cholesterol
  • A large waistline

Keep in mind that if you need medications for any of these variables to stay within normal limits, it still counts as a metabolic health condition. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes becomes.

Let’s take a closer look at all five major metabolic health markers so you can know what numbers are normal and which areas you may need to focus on to improve your overall metabolic health. 

Blood Sugar Levels

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Glucose is the primary energy source for every cell in your body, and plenty of effort goes into maintaining a steady sugar level in the bloodstream. Hormones like insulin and glucagon work together to move glucose from the blood into cells, lowering blood sugar and spilling glucose from the liver into the blood when your cells need more energy and sugar from food isn’t available. 

When this system isn’t working properly, cells can become insulin resistant, which causes an increase in insulin production to keep shuttling glucose from the blood into the cells. Insulin resistance can lead to vascular damage and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can then lead to additional problems like high blood pressure, inflammation, and more.3

Healthy, normal blood sugar levels are a fasting glucose of <90 mg/dL and a hemoglobin A1c of less than 5.6 percent. 

Low HDL Cholesterol

If you’ve heard that low cholesterol is healthy, that’s only partially true. LDL-cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that makes up most of the cholesterol in your body, and high levels of this is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.4 HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, helps to remove cholesterol and other lipids from the cardiovascular system into the liver for disposal or to other parts of the body so they can be used for things like hormone production.5 

Low levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with metabolic syndrome. There are several foods that can help raise your HDL, including nuts, fish, beans, avocado, and olive oil. Other lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise and not smoking can also help. 

Healthy, normal HDL cholesterol is higher than 50 mg/dL for women and higher than 40 mg/dL for men. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="metabolic-health">What Is Metabolic Health?</a>.</p>

Blood Pressure

When blood flows through your body, it exerts pressure on the arterial walls, and this pressure is what’s known as blood pressure. Your systolic pressure (the top number) is the pressure that is exerted when your heart beats, and the diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is the pressure between beats or at rest. 

Lifestyle factors and diet can lead to high blood pressure, along with genetic components and other medical conditions. Over time, elevated blood pressure can damage artery walls, making them less elastic or causing them to rupture or become blocked, reducing the flow of oxygen and blood to essential organs like the brain, heart, and kidneys.6

Healthy, normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg or lower and a diastolic pressure of 80 mm Hg or lower. 

Waist Circumference

Waist circumference is a better predictor of metabolic health than body fat or body weight as it gives a clearer picture of intra-abdominal fat, which has the strongest health risk. A large study of over 500,000 people found that a larger waist-to-hip ratio was more strongly associated with heart attack risk than BMI, and a higher waist circumference was associated with a higher risk of heart attacks in men and women.7

While some abdominal fat is necessary for insulation, protection, and hormone production, excessive fat around organs in the abdomen is linked to impaired glucose and lipid metabolism, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers.8

A healthy, normal waistline is 35 inches or less for women and 40 inches or less for men. 

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of lipid that circulates in your blood and is stored in fat cells. They’re formed from fats that are in the diet and extra calories that aren’t needed by your body right away. Eating high-fat and high-sugar foods, too many calories, too much alcohol, and getting too little exercise can all raise your triglyceride levels and increase your risk of a heart attack and stroke.9

A healthy, normal triglyceride level is under 150 mg/dL.  

How to Monitor and Manage Metabolic Markers

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Seeing your doctor for routine physicals and blood work is the best way to monitor metabolic markers like cholesterol levels, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Signos can help you monitor blood sugar levels with a continuous glucose monitor as you work on your health goals, and you can easily keep track of your waist circumference with a flexible measuring tape.

Lifestyle changes like improving your diet, exercising, getting better sleep, not smoking, managing stress, moderating your alcohol intake, and managing a healthy weight can all help improve your metabolic health. 

How Signos Can Help

Signos is here to help you track and evaluate progress as you incorporate lifestyle interventions to manage and improve your metabolic health. 

Learn more about Signos and take the quick free quiz to find out if it’s the next right step for you and your health and wellness goals.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong> <a href="metabolic-health-101">Metabolic Health 101</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Cho, Y., & Lee, S. Y. (2022). Useful Biomarkers of Metabolic Syndrome. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(22), 15003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9690835/ 
  2. Araújo, J., Cai, J., & Stevens, J. (2019). Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016. Metabolic syndrome and related disorders, 17(1), 46–52. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30484738/ 
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2023). Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®)–Patient Version. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507839/ 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). LDL and HDL Cholesterol: What's Bad and What's Good? https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm
  5. Jomard, A., & Osto, E. (2020). High Density Lipoproteins: Metabolism, Function, and Therapeutic Potential. Frontiers in cardiovascular medicine, 7, 39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7136892/ 
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). About High Blood Pressure. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
  7. Woodward, M. (2018). Sex Differences in the Association Between Measures of General and Central Adiposity and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction: Results From the UK Biobank. Journal of the American Heart Association. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/JAHA.117.008507
  8. Shuster, A., Patlas, M., Pinthus, J. H., & Mourtzakis, M. (2012). The clinical importance of visceral adiposity: a critical review of methods for visceral adipose tissue analysis. The British journal of radiology, 85(1009), 1–10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3473928/
  9. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2023). High Blood Triglycerides. NHLBI, NIH. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/high-blood-triglycerides

About the author

Kelsey Kunik is a registered dietitian, health and wellness writer, and nutrition consultant

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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