Everyone knows the importance of blood lipids in maintaining health.Â Elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol are considered markers for an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and it been suggested by some experts that most Americans would benefit from low doses of statins. Â Yet surprisingly enough, these handful of fats comprise only a small portion of the fats contained in blood plasma.
Structured along the lines of the human genome project, scientists are collaborating to characterize all of the fats in blood plasma, under a project known as the lipodome / LIPID MARS study*.Â Headed by scientists at the University of San Diego School of Medicine, the team has characterized 588 different kinds of fats found in human blood plasma, many of which have never been isolated, and its believed this is just the tip of the iceberg, with the potential that thousands of molecules will be isolated before the study is complete.Â Funding has been provided for another 5 years, allowing the team to continue their work.
If you find yourself questioning the value of such work, consider this fact. Â Health experts warn us repeatedly about high fat diet risks, and the dangers of the traditional Western diet.Â Yet, we are instructed to consume certain fats while avoiding others.Â Fats allow for the transport fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D and improve skin health.Â Good fats improve heart health, while “bad” fats cause heart and arterial damage.Â Lipids constitute 60% of the human brain, yet we don’t yet fully understand the structure of the compounds, much less the responsibility of the different lipid molecules in the bloodstream.
It has been suggested that fat cells, and possibly even cancer cells may use lipids for communicating with distant cells throughout the body. Â Consuming foods high in saturated fats leads to inflammation, but foods high in omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation.Â The recommendations can present a dizzying array of conflicting information, made more complicated by the knowledge that medical experts don’t understand the structure and composition of lipids once they’re metabolized, and make their way into the bloodstream.Â This team hopes to remedy this oversight.
Much of the press about fats in human health is negative, and some of that is well deserved.Â But fats are also essential for good health.Â Scientists are just beginning to understand the true chemistry, structure, and concentration on fats in blood plasma, which will give them the ability to fully understand how fats the impact on diseases other than arterial health.Â It seems likely that as the LIPID MARS project picks up steam, we will find developments as important and far-reaching as the human genome project.
* The findings of this study will be published in the November issue of the Journal of Lipid Research