Gerald Reaven, scientist who coined ‘Syndrome X,’ dies at 89

The nutrition science community recently lost a great friend and preeminent scientist who furthered our understanding of the mechanisms of chronic disease. Gerald “Jerry” Reaven, MD, who gained international recognition for coining the term Syndrome X, now known as Metabolic Syndrome, died Feb. 12. He was 89.

Dr. Reaven was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1928, and completed his undergraduate and medical school studies at the University of Chicago. He performed his residency training in internal medicine at the University of Michigan, and moved to Stanford in the 1960s, where he worked until 2017.

Dr. Reaven was one of the first researchers to argue for the existence of insulin resistance, a diminished response to the hormone insulin. It was a controversial concept that was met with huge opposition. In 1970, he developed the first test to measure how insulin mediates glucose uptake in humans, and he used the technique to demonstrate the significance of insulin resistance in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Reaven discovered the role of insulin resistance in multiple other diseases, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure. He was the first to identify these clinical abnormalities as being collectively related to cardiovascular disease—a condition he named “Syndrome X.” In 1988, while being awarded the American Diabetes Association’s Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement, he delivered a lecture in which he proposed that these abnormalities are all related to insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance.

Dr. Reaven was the American College of Nutrition ACN Award winner recipient in 2011. This award recognizes the career accomplishments of senior scientists and acknowledges distinguished achievements and contributions to the field of nutrition.

Dr. Reaven is survived by his wife, electron microscopist Eve Reaven, and the couple’s three children.