Understanding Lipid Metabolism and Its Complications

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Lipids, also called lipoproteins, are fatty biomolecules that are found in our body. The lipids found in our bloodstream are LDL (low-density lipoproteins), HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and triglycerides.

Lipid Metabolism and Its Complications

  • LDL is generally labelled as “bad” cholesterol, as it mostly accumulates in our blood vessels and forms plaque leading to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. 
  • HDL is called the “good” cholesterol as it helps in reducing cholesterol from our body, reduces the chances of plaque formation to a large extent, and thus lessens the chances of heart diseases. 
  • Triglycerides are produced in our body from the food we eat and stored in the fat cells to be used when the body needs energy. Triglycerides are used up by our body but excessive accumulation of triglyceride can be harmful as it may lead to arteriosclerosis (deposition of fats inside blood vessels). 

Lipid metabolism is very complex and involves lipid production and metabolism through various pathways. Any kind of problems in enzyme secretion or disorders in the process can cause lipid abnormalities. Certain related disorders are cardiovascular disease, hypertension and pancreatitis. 

Lipid Metabolic Disorders

The causes of these lipid abnormalities lie most commonly in obesity, or genetics, as is the case in familial hypercholesterolemia. Acquired disorders like LDL hypercholesterolemia, and hypertriglyceridemia can be seen in adults due to lifestyle problems. 

Certain lipid storage disorders, like Gaucher’s disease, Tay-Sachs disease and Fabry’s disease are inherited lipid metabolic disorders in which harmful amounts of lipids accumulate in the cells of our body. If lipid gets accumulated in large amounts on the myelin sheath coating of the nerves, it can damage the cells and tissues of the brain and peripheral nervous system, which is untreatable. Symptoms can be seen in childhood, teenage years, or in adulthood.  Neurological complications include poor muscle coordination and muscle tone, brain cell damage, epileptic attacks, learning and speech disabilities, etc.

Types of Lipid Metabolic Diseases

The main disorders of lipid metabolism are:

  • Familial hypercholesterolemia: It is an inherited metabolic disease that is caused by the deficiency of the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) receptor in liver cells and other organs. Symptoms are early coronary heart disease, chest pain, and xanthelasmas and corneal arcus in eyes, and xanthomas of skin.
  • LDL hypercholesterolemia: This disorder arises from an increase in the level of LDL lipoprotein and causes atherosclerosis leading to grave cardiovascular diseases. This is mainly due to a disorganized lifestyle and eating habits and requires medical treatment.
  • Mixed hyperlipoproteinemia: The metabolic syndrome called mixed hyperlipoproteinemia occurs due to increase in concentrations of both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and is mostly found in diabetics. The LDL cholesterol level needs to be kept under control.
  • Hypertriglyceridemia: Isolated hypertriglyceridemia is a lipid disorder in which the triglyceride concentration is much above normal while LDL cholesterol is surprisingly low. The total cholesterol level rises. Just as in mixed hyperlipoproteinemia, isolated hypertriglyceridemia can be controlled by strict lifestyle modification.
  • Isolated HDL cholesterol reduction: If the HDL cholesterol is abnormally low, this disorder is diagnosed. It mostly occurs with hypertriglyceridemia. Occasionally, it happens that the patient has normal triglyceride levels but low HDL cholesterol. However, the rise or fall of HDH is not associated with atherosclerosis.

Precautionary Measures

  • Partake in exercise and physical activities – Work out for at least 30 minutes daily. Activities, for example, climbing the stairs at work or taking a walk can also help.
  • Avoid sugars and simple carbohydrates – Simple carbohydrates, such as sugary juices, and sweets, and confectionary foods made from white flour can increase triglycerides.
  • Reduce body weight – Patients having hypertriglyceridemia must cut down on alcohol use and reduce body weight. Extra calories present in alcohol will increase triglyceride level in blood.
  • Choose healthier foods – Healthier fat obtained from plants, and fresh water fish containing omega-3 fatty acids are healthy. Don’t use trans fats or hydrogenated oils for cooking.
  • Seek proper medication: If healthy lifestyle changes are not enough then you need medical attention for controlling blood lipid level. Certain medicines like statins, fibrates, niacin, fish oil, etc. are recommended by the doctors. 

Whatever may be prescribed to the patient, they must follow it religiously to reduce the severe consequences of improper lipid metabolism.

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