The World of Lipids
Part 2- Why Lipids are Central to Your Health
In Part 1 we took a look at what lipids are, how they get into your body, and what they are doing there. In the proper amounts, cholesterol and triglycerides are crucial for the proper functioning of the cells in your body. However, if present in excessive amounts (particularly in the bloodstream), lipids contribute to the development of many of the chronic diseases which are plaguing our society today. Here, in Part 2 we will provide an overview into how this happens.
Broadly speaking, there are 2 types of problems that are associated with lipids, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease. In cardiovascular disease, the lipoprotein particles cause plaque buildup to form in the wall of your arteries, as shown in the picture below. Arteries are pipes that deliver blood to your tissues, and they are made of several layers, a bit like
the skin of an onion. As lipoproteins float through your arteries, the particles (and the cholesterol contained within them) get stuck in between the different layers of the artery wall. Getting lodged in the wall is the first domino to fall in a long cascade of events that ultimately ends in heart attacks, strokes, or blockages in the arteries
supplying your legs with blood. The more particles that are floating around, the more likely they are to get stuck in the artery wall leading to cardiovascular disease. The reverse is also true: the fewer particles floating around, the less likely they will lead to problems. This concept is the foundation of the idea that “lower is better” when it comes to cholesterol. Apart from the amount of cholesterol, there is another variable to consider as well…time. Cholesterol buildup in our artery walls begins early in childhood and progresses throughout our entire lives- so the longer blood levels of cholesterol remain above target, the more likely a person is to develop cardiovascular disease. Similarly, as blood cholesterol levels climb higher, less time is required before disease develops. So instead of “lower is better”, perhaps the mantra should be modified to say “lower for longer is better.”
The other broad category of disease related to lipids is metabolic disease. While a deep dive into metabolic syndrome is beyond the scope of this discussion, it is certainly worth mentioning here. The metabolic system generally refers to the way your body manages energy. This encompasses a vast array of enzymes, proteins, hormones, as well as fuels- all of which are tightly regulated and working in harmony to keep your body running smoothly. When the system breaks down or becomes dysregulated your body no longer processes energy efficiently and the metabolic system goes off the track. This diseased state is referred to as “metabolic syndrome”, and affects about one-
third of adults in the U.S. High levels of triglycerides is a common component of metabolic syndrome and is an often-ignored signal that the system is not functioning properly. If not fixed, metabolic syndrome results in countless chronic diseases including heart attacks, strokes, cirrhosis, diabetes, dementia and even cancer.
So the bottom line is that lipids sit at the center of many chronic diseases. It is critical to have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels measured- and if abnormalities are discovered to take steps to correct the problem before it’s too late.