The question is: If unhealthy dietary evolution is mostly to blame, can nutritional interventions help, or has Syndrome X become so chronic only medical interventions are going to make any difference?
As commercial and academic R&D labs seek to define the various maladies and the agents that can control them, the diversity of the condition makes causality difficult to define, and this can translate into confusion in the marketplace.
Just last week The New Yorker magazine ran a long feature about inflammation, trying to unravel and comprehend it. In 2013 Science devoted an issue to inflammation. A few years ago a similar piece featured on the front page of Time magazine.
The take away messages are similar – Syndrome X is harming health and lives and costing billions in doctor and hospital visits but a complete understanding of its complex workings may be some way off - and with it the role of both nutrition and medicine in its prevention.
Reflecting this state of affairs, inflammation-based marketing is controlled in most legal jurisdictions for foods and supplements purporting to battle the range of metabolic maladies.
Frequently Syndrome X is considered a medical issue and left to the medical world to ‘treat’, even as the science builds around nutrients like probiotics, vitamins, minerals, omega-3s to prevent or moderate conditions as varied as obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Medicine versus food
It is a classic case of a to-and-fro between the food and medical worlds.
A case where a large but inconclusive body of nutrition science reveals a great amount of potential to reduce the severity and occurrence of a group of debilitating diseases and health problems – and with it increasingly unmanageable public healthcare costs that World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show cost hundreds of billions of euros each year.
But at the same time a case where a relatively nascent body of science is still sifting the mingling of nutrient intakes, lifestyle, socioeconomics and health outcomes.
Such ambiguity allows regulators and policy makers to take a neutral position, or push the issue to the medical world where interventions and results are more easily defined.
There will always be a place for medical treatments when these maladies reach chronic status.
Can food treat Syndrome X? No. But the role of better nutrition to alleviate or prevent its rise, can only grow in importance.