Lipids, Heart Health and Baselining Your Health

Video Topic : Your blood "knows" what you eat, meaning that the cardiovascular system is a sensitive barometer of a person's health, including diet. What individuals eat is reflected in their blood chemistry and the health of their heart, arteries and vessels. Fats (also known as lipids), for example, are vital to health and wellbeing throughout our lives and yet they are mostly associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease. The problem is that not all fats (or cholesterol) are equal. They share basic chemical similarities, but they also have important differences, which, in turn, result in different roles and effects in the body. Tests that offer information on diet and heart health include total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol), high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol), and triglycerides.


A generic term for fats and lipoids, the alcohol-ether-soluble constituents of protoplasm, which are insoluble in water. They comprise the fats, fatty oils, essential oils, waxes, phospholipids, glycolipids, sulfolipids, aminolipids, chromolipids (lipochromes), and fatty acids.

National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

  • Triglycerides
    are the main components of vegetable oils and animal fats. They’re made up of three fatty acid molecules attached to one glycerol molecule. Triglycerides are broken down in your digestive system so that those fatty acids can be burned for energy. Any excess triglycerides are stored in your fat cells.

  • Phospholipids
    contain two fatty acids and have a head region and a tail region. The head is hydrophilic—attracted to water. The tail is hydrophobic—repelled by water. Phospholipids arrange themselves into double-layered membranes. The outside surfaces of these membranes contain the heads of the phospholipids and are hydrophilic.

  • Cholesterol
    has a bad reputation, but the fact is you couldn’t live without it. It’s made by all the cells in your body and forms up to half of the cell membrane. Cholesterol helps to make vitamin D. It’s used to create bile acids, which you must have in order to absorb dietary fats. And cholesterol is a building block for many hormones, including the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.

Your bloodstream carries nutrients, such as lipids, to your cells. But there’s a problem: Because blood is mostly water, lipids and blood won’t mix. To move freely through your blood vessels, lipids must be carried by lipoproteins—spherical particles made up of lipids and proteins. Lipoprotein particles are held together by a phospholipid membrane arranged so that the hydrophilic side faces outward. This allows the lipoprotein particles to mix with your blood and sail through your bloodstream like ships, carrying their cargos of lipids.

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