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Lipids are a diverse group of fats and fatlike substances. Lipids are organic molecules that are insoluble in water. Because of this water insolubility, lipids tend to gather together. This pattern of aggregation can be seen in the membrane (outer portion of cells) lipids of cells and lipoproteins and in other areas.

There are many different types of lipids, each with certain characteristics. The group lipids includes fatty acids, neutral fats, waxes and steroids. Compound lipids comprise lipoproteins, glycolipids and phospholipids.

Lipids are essential to life. Practically every function in the human body is in some way dependant on lipids. Structurally, lipids compose the membrane in the outer portion of our cells. Without this membrane, the contents of a cell would just drift away. And with the average person having more than 170 trillion cells, we can see the importance lipids serve in this respect. Lipids serve as energy stores. The energy content of fat is more than twice that of carbohydrates and protein. Excess sugar can be converted to a lipid and stored for future use. Excess lipids in the diet can also be stored. Lipids provide padding and insulation for us and other animals to keep warm. Some lipids act as hormones, affecting the function of a target tissue. Lipids even perform functions that we take for granted, such as serving as attractants to another person in courting (eg., the curves you may find attractive on a female)

Certain lipids can also cause illness. Lipid A, the glycolipid portion of lipopolysaccharide in certain bacteria is responsible for causing endotoxic shock. Toxic shock syndrome, which is caused by certain bacteria multiplying on tampons, causes life threatening decreases in blood pressure and other dangerous signs and symptoms. This life-threatening condition is also caused by a type of lipid produced by bacteria.

Increased intake of dietary lipids increases the risk of developing type II diabetes, cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and strokes, organ failure, and other health problems. From this short introduction we can see that fats are essential, and at the same time we must learn to balance intake of lipids and their specific types.

The lipid highway

The best way to understand lipids is to follow their journey from their entry into the body to their metabolism throughout. We have divided lipid metabolism into several sections. Review the links to learn more.

Dietary lipid metabolism of Triacylglycerols

Dietary lipid metabolism of Phospholipids

Dietary lipid metabolism of Glycolipids

Cholesterol and steroids

Classes of lipids

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