Lipid profile is a group of blood tests that is conducted to assess the risk of cardiovascular disorders. An abnormal lipid profile usually indicates the possibility of coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. People over the age of 35 years should test their blood at least once in six months for monitoring their blood lipid levels. In preparation for a lipid profile test, a person is supposed to fast for 12 hours (without food, medications, and liquids except water). In India, the cost of a lipid profile is not very high and is therefore affordable to the lower middle class too. A lipid profile includes 5 basic parameters, namely total cholesterol, triglycerides, VLDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol.
Cholesterol, a fat produced by the liver, is used by the body to maintain the normal structure of the body cells and to produce hormones like estrogen, progesterone, cortisone, and aldosterone. It is also derived from the food we eat. Once ingested, dietary cholesterol is absorbed by the small intestine and is transported to the liver via the blood. High levels of blood cholesterol are found in the blood when the body fails to metabolize it efficiently or when an excess of it is provided through dietary sources. A total cholesterol that is less than 200 mg/dL is desirable. A value ranging between 200 and 240 mg/dL is said to be borderline, and anything above 240 mg/dL is considered to be high.
Triglycerides are another type of fat found in the bloodstream. When dietary fat is digested, it is eventually metabolized into triglycerides and packed with special proteins to ensure their proper transportation to the liver. Its level is usually elevated by excess consumption of simple sugars or alcohol, overweight or obesity, thyroid or liver disease, and genetic disorders. A person's triglycerides level should ideally be below 150 mg/dL. If the figure ranges from 150 to 200, it is said to be borderline; and if greater than 200 mg/dL, it is considered to be high.
VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoproteins), LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins), and HDL (High Density Lipoproteins) are special kinds of proteins that help in the transportation of cholesterol between the liver and other organs of the body. VLDL and LDL are known as ‘bad’ cholesterols as they are known to transport and deposit fat in different parts of the body; while HDL is said to be ‘good’ cholesterol as it re-collects the fat from various organs and transports it back to the liver. Increase in one’s intake of saturated fat has been found to increase the VLDL and LDL levels and decrease the HDL levels.
Monosaturated fats, on the other hand, have been found to decrease the levels of bad cholesterol and increase the levels of HDL, the heart-friendly fat. The LDL cholesterol level is normal if it is less than 130 mg/dL. A borderline value ranges between 130 and 160 mg/dL, and a level above 160 mg/dL is unhealthy. In the case of HDL cholesterol, it is just the opposite. A value greater than 40 mg/dL is desirable, that between 35 and 45 is borderline, whereas a value less than 35 is undesirable.