What Lipids Mean for Your Heart Health

Cholesterol and triglycerides are two major categories of lipids which are important to us because they are instrumental in the development of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease which, in time, can lead to heart attack. Although we often think of lipids in a negative light, they are actually critical to the proper functioning of our bodies. For example, cholesterol is a precursor molecule needed for the formation of normal steroid hormones, and it serves as a fundamental building block for cells in the body. Triglycerides are lipids that serve as a key source of energy for the body. But when the level of certain lipids is too high in the bloodstream on a regular basis, this "hyperlipidemia" can lead to heart disease.

Lipids are absorbed into the blood from the gastrointestinal tract after a meal. Because lipids are fatty and the blood is mainly water, most lipids, such as cholesterol, need to be attached to protein molecules to form "lipoproteins" in order to travel in the bloodstream (oil and water don't mix). Some of the most important lipoproteins are very-low-density-lipoprotein (VLDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). In general, VLDL and LDL are involved in taking lipids to the tissues for use as energy or for storage, while HDL is used to take lipids to the liver to be excreted or recycled. This is why LDL is often called the "bad cholesterol" and HDL is considered the "good cholesterol".

When lipid levels are evaluated in a blood test, a panel of various lipids are measured in order to determine if healthy levels are present or if a change in diet or even medical treatment may be needed to reduce the risk of heart attack. This panel, like the one offered at United Clinical Laboratories, usually includes the measurement of total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, and LDL. Generally, lower levels of cholesterol and LDL in the blood are desirable, and higher levels of HDL are desirable. Armed with the results of these tests, patients can work with their primary care provider to determine if additional steps should be taken.

More information about lipids may be found at websites associated with the following organizations:
National Cholesterol Education Program
The American Heart Association