Two recent studies have pointed out several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome. These include low dietary calcium, lack of exercise, periodontal disease and low income.

Men and women who said they did not regularly eat calcium rich foods had a 61% higher risk of having metabolic syndrome than those who said they frequently ate them.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of factors that increases the chance of contracting heart disease, diabetes or stroke. These factors include high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, higher than average blood sugar, low levels of "good" HDL-cholesterol and high blood triglycerides. People with three or more of these conditions are generally considered to have metabolic syndrome. In effect, one can view metabolic syndrome as the body's version of an especially grim State of the Union address.

A study of 5,000 Illinois adults linked metabolic syndrome to low dietary calcium and to lack of exercise. Men and women who said they did not regularly eat calcium rich foods had a 61% higher risk of having metabolic syndrome than those who said they frequently ate them. Similarly, people who said they did not get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, including walking, on most days of the week, were 85% more likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who said they exercised regularly.

The study also found that people whose incomes were under $15,000 per year were over three times as likely to have metabolic syndrome as people earning over $50,000 per year.

While increasing your income may be difficult, exercising more and eating sufficient dietary calcium shouldn't be. The recommended intake of calcium is 1000 milligrams per day for adults aged 19-50 and 1300 milligrams a day for adults over 50. Dairy foods are richest in calcium but collard greens, sardines and spinach also contain appreciable amounts.

The study results appear in the November/December 2008 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Another study found that gum disease (periodontitis) is also a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. The adults in the study who had gum disease were more than twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome than people with better oral health were.

Normally, the gums fit snugly over the teeth. Various factors can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving a gap or space which is often called a pocket. The larger the pocket, the more easily food particles become trapped inside of it, causing excess bacterial growth. Over time, this can lead to inflammation, infection, bleeding and eventual tooth loss. A major cause of periodontal disease is cigarette smoking, which both destroys gum tissue and makes food particles stickier and harder to remove by brushing.

While periodontitis is usually thought of as a disease of the mouth, several previous studies have shown that it can have much wider effects on the entire body. It has been linked with systemic inflammation, circulatory problems and increased insulin resistance.

The best way to prevent periodontitis is to brush and floss regularly and have your teeth cleaned by a dental professional twice a year.

The periodontitis study focused on nearly 14,000 U.K. men and women who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Study and who had also undergone periodontal exams. The results were published in the October 2008 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.