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Fats are necessary for our cells to function properly. But a bad diet can alter the amount of fats in our blood and cause severe health problems. Here are some facts about the fats present in our blood and how to keep them under control.

Fats are not as bad as we think

We may have heard about them. Our doctor may have told us to lower our fats intake because our lipids in blood are too high. Also, it seems that the word “fat” scares everyone and makes us think that we have to get rid of all fats in our diet in order to stay healthy and slim. This is not entirely true, though. Lipids, commonly known as fats, are an essential component of our cells and therefore, they should be in our diet too. Excess and a reduction in our fats intake can derive in dangerous health problems. Learn about the lipids that run through your veins and how they participate in body functions and disease.

Cholesterol: The good and the bad

Cholesterol is an essential component of our cells, specially of the cell membrane.

It is a waxy substance that is involved in the production of hormones and of the bile acids that are required to digest food.

Our body produces cholesterol in both the liver and the small intestine; however, the food we ingest serves as an external source of cholesterol. Both internal and external cholesterol help in keeping blood cholesterol levels constant and available for cells to use it.

Cholesterol does not travel alone through the bloodstream. It has to be packed together with proteins that in conjunction form what is known as lipoproteins. Depending on their content and function, lipoproteins can be of low density (LDLs) or high density (HDLs).

LDLs are the ones in charge of transporting cholesterol to the tissues, including our arteries.

There, the cholesterol that is attached to LDLs, considered the "bad cholesterol", is released and accumulates, promoting the formation of cholesterol plaques or atheroma. These plaques increase in size over time, reducing the space through which blood passes through and promoting the blockage of bloodstream and other complications.

HDLs on the other hand take the cholesterol that was transported by LDLs from the tissues back to the liver.

This is the reason why HDLs are considered to be the “good cholesterol”. When reaching the liver, HDLs release their cholesterol content in order for it to be transformed and excreted in the form of bile acids.

In total, both good and bad cholesterol account for all the cholesterol that you have in blood.

Total cholesterol has to be less than 200 mg/dL but it is more important to look at the individual levels of LDLs and HDLs in order to determine if you are at risk of disease or not.

Remember that your LDLs have to be at low levels, because they carry the bad type of cholesterol to your arteries, whereas HDLs levels have to be high in order for them to be enough to carry cholesterol from tissues to the liver, where it would be excreted.

Triglycerides: The ones that make us fat

Sometimes, we eat more than we need, specially food rich in fats, carbohydrates and starches.

Our body has a mechanism to store this extra energy and in the case of extra fats and carbohydrates, our body transforms it into triglycerides.

Triglycerides are also packed, just as cholesterol, in very low density lipoproteins (VLDLs) so that they can be transported to other tissues through the bloodstream. The main sites of storage of triglycerides are the muscle and adipose tissue.

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