Your body’s cardiovascular system — the network of vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body and back to the heart again — is akin to a set of interconnected freeways. Blood, lipids, and other substances are like the cars on those freeways, able to carry cargo over great distances relatively quickly. Also known as fats, lipids largely have a bad reputation; and, indeed, a lipid such as low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, increases cardiovascular disease risk.
However, many types of lipids exist — and not all are harmful. In fact, many lipids are important because they travel through the blood and alter the absorption of substances, such as vitamins and other types of lipids. One lipid, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), is linked to lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Your lipid profile, and the resultant health of your cardiovascular system, is affected by several variables, including your genetics and family history. Lifestyle choices also impact your lipid levels — and so, too, your heart health.
Both regular exercise and a healthy diet can aid in the reduction of harmful levels of lipids while also reducing the presence of subcutaneous and visceral fat, which lie just underneath your skin and hug your organs, respectively.
This report will help you better understand what lipids are, how they relate to heart health, and what you can do — particularly regarding your gut microbiome and how best “to feed it” — to improve your lipid profile and so reduce risks of adverse cardiovascular events.
What kinds of lipids are in your body?
In general, lipids comprise a group of fatty compounds, such as:
- Triglycerides. When you consume more calories than you need, the excess calories are converted into triglycerides — a type of fat found in blood — and stored in fat cells for later use. Gram for gram, fat provides more energy (more than twice the amount) than carbohydrates or protein. Continually consuming excess calories, however, generates high levels of triglycerides and can lead to a condition called hypertriglyceridemia. Coupled with low HDL (the “good” cholesterol”) and high LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), high triglyceride levels increase risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
- Sterols. Perhaps the most well-known sterol is cholesterol, which plays a key role in maintaining appropriate fluidity of the phospholipid bilayer, allowing only certain molecules to move in and out of the cell. Cholesterol is also critical in synthesizing hormones, vitamin D, and bile salts. Additionally, cholesterol is required for rapid brain communication because it helps create myelin — a type of fat that insulates neurons and allows brain signals to travel vast distances quickly. This is really important when quick thinking is needed, like when you accidentally place your hand on a hot stove and need to withdraw it quickly. Not all cholesterol is good, however, and it’s important to regulate your cholesterol intake.
- HDL. Lipids are often negatively associated with health, but it’s important to realize that there are good fats and bad fats. Good fats include HDL cholesterol, which helps clear excess cholesterol from the body. Other good fats include monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados, and some nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6-fatty acids found in fatty fish, such as salmon or vegetable oils, such as corn oil. Importantly, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are less likely to cause plaque buildup in your arteries. While the differences between mono- and polyunsaturated fats are chemical, the important thing to note here is that the body is able to produce monounsaturated fats, while polyunsaturated fats must be consumed.
- LDL. There are also bad fats, such as LDL cholesterol, which can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels, eventually leading to heart attack and stroke. LDLs are found in saturated fats, such as those found in red meats, full-fat dairy products, or fast food. Another key source of LDLs are in the dreaded trans fats, which result from a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation transforms otherwise healthy oils into solids in order to prevent them from going bad. However, this process removes all nutritional benefits and both increases LDL and reduces HDL, resulting in increased risk of inflammation, stroke, diabetes, and other diseases. This is why many countries have officially banned trans fats from being added to foods.
The importance of lipids for heart health
It is clear that the relationship between lipids and heart health is dependent on numerous factors, including the type of lipid and the overall lipid profile for each person. These, together with genetic factors and lifestyle choices (such as diet and exercise), affect heart health. Besides the functions listed above, lipids play important supportive roles in heart health, including:
The dangers of lipids for heart health
A poor lipid profile can lead to underlying causes of various CVDs, including:
How to improve lipid levels
Now that we know that not all lipids are bad, and the combination of lipids that makes up your lipid profile directly affects your cardiovascular health, here are some ways you can improve your lipid levels:
- Take a supplement. While many foods can improve lipid levels, so too can dietary supplements. The Eden’s synbiotic contain ingredients that have been scientifically studied to improve gut health and reduce CVD risk. For example, resistant potato starch (Solnul™) is a prebiotic that reduces LDL and triglyceride levels. Barley β-glucan and locust bean gum are prebiotics that also reduce LDL levels, and green tea is a polyphenol that reduces risk for CVD by inhibiting cholesterol absorption in the intestine. The probiotics Lactobacillus paracasei and Bacillus coagulans can also improve lipid levels through their positive effects on the gut. All told, Eden’s blends 5 prebiotics, 4 probiotics, and 5 polyphenols into one easy-to-tolerate supplement.
There are many types of lipids that can either positively or negatively affect cardiovascular health. In particular, LDL and triglycerides are linked with increased CVD risk, while HDL is associated with decreased CVD risk. Although certain levels of these lipids are necessary for our bodies, maintaining a good lipid profile is essential for heart health. Increasing aerobic exercise, upping your consumption of prebiotic fiber-rich plant-based foods, and incorporating healthy fats (such as those found in fatty fish, nuts, and olive oil) are great lifestyle changes that support cardiovascular health. Adding a nutritional supplement that has scientifically-backed ingredients, such as Eden’s synbiotic, can give your body an extra boost toward improved lipid levels, plus other health benefits in the areas of glycemic control, digestive health, and immunity enhancement.