Insulin resistance has been hypothesized to unify the clustering of hypertension, glucose intolerance, hyper-insulinemia, increased levels of triglyceride and decreased HDL cholesterol, and central and overall obesity. We tested this hypothesis with factor analysis, a statistical technique that should identify one factor if a single process underlies the clustering of these risk variables. From 2,458 nondiabetic subjects of the Framingham Offspring Study, we collected clinical data, fasting and 2-h postchallenge glucose and insulin levels, and fasting lipid levels. We performed factor analyses separately for men and women in the entire population and among subgroups with features of the insulin resistance syndrome. Subjects ranged in age from 26 to 82 years (mean age 54); 53% were women, 13.4% had impaired glucose tolerance, 27.6% had hypertension, 40% were obese, and 11.6% were hyperinsulinemic, defined by elevated fasting insulin levels. Underlying the clustering of these risk variables were three factors. Fasting and 2-h postchallenge insulin levels, fasting triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels, BMI, and waist-to-hip ratio were associated with one factor. Fasting and 2-h levels of glucose and insulin were associated with a second factor. Systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and BMI were associated with a third factor. Results were similar for men and women and for all subgroups. These results were consistent with more than one independent physiological process underlying risk variable clustering: a central metabolic syndrome (characterized by hyperinsulinemia, dyslipidemia, and obesity), glucose intolerance, and hypertension. Glucose intolerance and hypertension were linked to the central syndrome through shared correlations with insulin levels and obesity. Insulin resistance (reflected by hyperinsulinemia) alone did not appear to underlie all features of the insulin resistance syndrome.

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