Picture a good old fashioned fry up. Makes your mouth water does it not? All the deep fried goodness is enough to make you happy. That being said how many times have we heard people saying that food with a lot of oil and lipids are not good for your health? Let us explore this conundrum.
Lipids are one of the four key building blocks of life. Along with carbohydrates, proteins and DNA, lipids are a part of the most basic element of life which is the cell. The lipids form the cell membrane cells which serve as the border of the cell. Apart from serving as the cell membrane, lipids also function as insulators in the body to help maintain body temperature. They cover vital organs of the body and act as shock absorbers. Lipids also function as a transporter of vitamins and minerals from the digestive tract.
Lipids play an all important role in the production of energy in the body. Body fat is used to extract energy when the carbohydrate and glycogen stores in the body become depleted.
So how can something which has so many important functions, a building block of life, be bad for your health?
The medical definition of hyperlipidemia is the abnormal increase in lipids in the blood stream. It is a fairly common non communicable disease in the population, with affected numbers rising significantly over the years. This rise is mainly attributed to the sedentary lifestyle, preference of fast foods and reduced physical exercise amongst the population.
While there is an acceptable amount of lipids in your blood which is used for the bodily functions, excess fats can lead to significant health problems.
Lipids are transported in the blood with the help of proteins. These are of two types;
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL).LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL).HDL, or “good,” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
Excess lipids which are freely floating in your blood vessels tend to deposit on their walls. These deposits can be seen in everyone but in individuals with risk factors for developing hyperlipidemia, the deposition rate is faster.
When these fats deposit on the walls of blood vessels it creates a disturbance in the blood flow. Imagine the traffic congestion caused by a vehicle that is parked on the side of the road encroaching on the road itself. This is what exactly happens when there are fat depositions on the vessel walls. Blood flow becomes interrupted and turbulent. Now a smooth flow is essential to keep blood in a liquid state. Therefore if there is any disturbance to the blood flow, it tends to form clots. Overtime these small clots also deposit on the fatty plaque that formed and it continues to grow in size. You may not know that such a thing is happening inside the body until the blood vessel becomes completely closed.
Formation of these fatty plaques in different parts of the body will lead to different signs and symptoms. Heart attacks occur when the plaques are formed in the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart. Plaques in the vessels that supply the brain can lead to strokes while arteries that feed the kidneys will lead to kidney damage.
What are the risk factors associated?
There are significant risk factors which directly relate to the development of hyperlipidemia. It’s useful to know if you have one or more of the following risk factors.
- Poor diet
- Large waist circumference
- Lack of exercise
- Family history
Is obesity a risk factor Hyperlipidemia?
Obesity has been identified as one on the most significant risk factors for hyperlipidemia with over 50% of obese individuals suffering from high blood cholesterol. Obesity is a grave threat to the population of late. More and more obese individuals are being detected daily. The most worrying part of this equation is the fact that many of these are children.
How would I present?
Signs and symptoms of hyperlipidemia depends on where the plaque is formed in your body.
Heart – tightening chest pain spreading to neck and shoulder, poor exercise tolerance, difficulty in breathing during exercise are the most common features of plaques in the heart vessels. These can be signs of an impending heart attack.
Brain- weakness of limbs, disturbances in speech, memory loss and paralysis can result from the formation of plaques in the brain vessels.
Interruption of blood supply to the legs can lead to pain during walking which relieves at rest.
However it is important to note that these symptoms occur when there is enough blockage of your blood vessels to reduce the blood supply to the organs. By the time the symptoms appear it might be too late as lasting damage may have occurred over time.
When to seek medical advice?
You need not wait until symptoms start to appear in order to meet you doctor. An annual checkup never hurts anybody. Make an appointment with you family practitioner and he will attend to finding out whether your arteries are also blocked.
The process of diagnosis of hyperlipidemia is started with a detailed interview process where the doctor examines many aspects including you family history, lifestyle and food habits. He is interested in knowing whether you have had any of the symptoms due to heart disease or stroke.
Once the interview process is over the doctor will order certain investigations. These include;
- Full blood count
- Lipid profile
- Renal profile
- Fasting blood glucose
Other than these tests other specialized tests such as abdominal ultrasound scan and at times percutaneous angiography.
How would my doctor treat me?
The treatment of hyperlipidemia is mainly through drug therapy, surgical intervention and lifestyle modifications. Drug therapy includes the use of statins (Atorvastatin) to stabilize the plaques that are formed in the vessels. Treatment for hypertension and diabetes mellitus is also done simultaneously with drugs.
Surgical intervention is required when the blockage is severe. Depending on where the blockage is, either open surgery or placing a stent can be done. The surgical procedures carry their risks but the not doing the surgery can lead to more sinister complications therefore upon the doctor’s discursion, it is most advisable to get it complete.
Should I be followed up, even after getting treated?
Follow up is at a hyperlipidemia clinic. The benefits of attending a specialist care unit are vast. These canters are fully equipped to test, examine and provide treatment all in one go. It is important you attend at least every 6 months to the clinic to check your progress.
Are there any preventive measures available?
Prevention of hyperlipidemia is far easier than having to deal with its complications.
Healthy diet- reducing the consumption of fast foods are essential to prevent hyperlipidemia. Avoiding food rich in fat, sugar and refined starch is an excellent way to get control. Adding food which is abundant in dietary fiber helps to siphon off some of the cholesterol in the blood stream.
The My Plate concept is a great way to track your diet. Divide the plate into 4 equal parts. Add a carbohydrate rich food into 1 quarter of the plate; add a protein source to the other quarter. Fill the rest of the plate with vegetables and finish the meal with some healthy fruits. Refrain from adding excess salt and sugar to meals.
Exercise is extremely important in controlling the lipid levels. Most people say that they just don’t have time to exercise. But the fact remains that if you really want to do it, finding time is not difficult. An early morning walk or jog is enough to keep the lipid levels controlled if accompanied with a good diet. Engaging is sports such as swimming or badminton is also an extremely effective way of controlling the weight and body fat levels.
Hyperlipidemia is a dangerous disease; a silent killer. Yet preventing the development of hyperlipidemia is extremely easy. All that is needed is a little bit of effort on your part and choosing to make your life healthier and happier.