Obesity and the Risk of Dyslipidemia

One of the major contributing factors to metabolic syndrome (1) and obesity (2) is dyslipidemia. Dyslipidemia is the scientific term for any disorders in the blood cholesterol and triglycerides, also known as a blood lipid disorder. (3) Cholesterol and triglycerides are fatty substances, also known as lipids and having too much of these in the bloodstream can be risk factors for atherosclerosis, heart disease and any of the other conditions in the metabolic syndrome. (4)

The mechanism of cholesterol

While there are many types of cholesterol, the three most significant numbers that explain dyslipidemia are total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein – “good” cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein – “bad” cholesterol). Abnormal levels of triglycerides and insulin in the bloodstream are also part of the condition known as dyslipidemia. (5)

Triglycerides are produced by the liver to transport energy around the body. (6) The three sugar molecules that are linked together store energy that is on its way to be stored as body-fat for later use. (7) When a person is consuming too much sugar (either through pure sources or through an abundance of carbohydrates), this is converted to triglycerides and then carried by the insulin to be converted into body-fat for energy storage. (8) Insulin is released from the pancreas, (9) and normally, the level of insulin in the blood is adequate enough that all the excess triglycerides are stored away and the insulin is still able to deal with balancing the levels of cholesterol. However, if there is too much triglycerides in the blood, the available insulin may not be enough to deal with it, so the pancreas creates more. (10) Then, however, it must create more to deal with cholesterol and eventually the metabolic system goes into a spiral of creating far more insulin than the body needs in order to combat soaring triglyceride and cholesterol levels. This can lead to a serious condition known as insulin-resistance, which is the precursor to type 2 diabetes. (11)

Obesity and cholesterol

The main characteristic of dyslipidemia is that there is too much of both types of cholesterol in the blood, or that one type is too high and the other is too low. (12) The purpose of cholesterol in the bloodstream is to transport fatty materials around the body, either for energy storage or for repair functions as part of the immune system. (13) LDL cholesterol is a lot like a recycling molecule, taking body fat away from where it has been used. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is often called “good” cholesterol because it is transporting fatty materials for repair functions in the arterial wall. (14) Both types of cholesterol are necessary for a functioning body, but there are optimal levels that the body is normally able to regulate and keep to, provided other factors are not interfering.

One of the substances that interferes greatly with cholesterol levels is leptin, which is a hormone released from excess amounts of body-fat. (15) This molecule is responsible for regulating appetite, but because it is taking up valuable space in the bloodstream there is less chance for the insulin to get where it is supposed to be – regulating triglycerides or cholesterol. (16) The vicious cycle is that the more weight a person puts on, the more likely they will become immune to the effects of leptin and be less able to control their appetite. (17) This results in overeating and even more body-fat being put on.

In women, body-fat also releases estrogen, which can also interfere with the functioning of cholesterol and insulin by taking up resources. (18) Estrogen also encourages the growth of excess body-fat. (19)

The source of cholesterol

Cholesterol is created by the liver or the intestines (20) and is made of waxy fat which is used in producing hormones and cell membranes and is transported through the blood. Cholesterol is a basic substance that is needed in the genesis of new cells as it is what makes the cell membrane permeable, which allows minerals and nutrients to enrich the cell. (21) Thus, cholesterol is also a valuable part of the immune system and works in tandem with white blood cells to repair damage to any cells throughout the body or to create new cells. (22) When cholesterol goes into the body, it is oxidized by the liver and converted into acids that are needed throughout the body as well as waste products that go into the bile. (23) It can be seen that although it is inevitable that cholesterol will be part of a healthy diet, if the liver is functioning perfectly and not laden down with excess body-fat then it can perform the task of oxidizing the cholesterol to extract the useful parts and dump the waste into the gall bladder for excretion. It is when there is already a metabolic imbalance in the body when ingestion of cholesterol in excessive amounts can lead to issues. (24)

Abnormal levels of cholesterol can be caused by a variety of factors. The most common of these is being overweight or obese, and this is related to metabolic syndrome. (25) Some medications, such as birth control pills, estrogen, corticosteroids, some diuretics, beta blockers and even some antidepressants have the ability to increase cholesterol (26) Some diseases of the ovaries and kidneys, excessive alcohol use, high fat diets with saturated fats, a lack of exercise and even smoking, which reduces HDL cholesterol, are all cofactors for any cholesterol abnormalities in the bloodstream. (27)

Treatment of dyslipidemia

The treatment of dyslipidemia is often so simple that it surprises a lot of people – lose weight. It has been shown that overweight or obese people have a hormonal disorder caused by excess body fat and high blood sugar levels, so attempting to and succeeding in losing weight is a good way of reducing the amount of leptin in your body. You can also reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol as well by changing your diet. Lastly, regular exercise promotes blood circulation and makes it easier for the blood to transport all the molecules it needs to the right places.