A New Lipid Test for Heart Disease


Even though we use cholesterol numbers to check for heart health, there may be something better. Researchers are studying ceramides. Cholesterol and ceramides are both types of lipids or fats in our cells and tissues and are essential for good health. But when there's too much of them in our blood, they cause atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, and heart disease. One reason to look for a different lipid other than cholesterol is that it's not high in 15 percent of people with heart disease.

Inside our cells are 200 variations of ceramides which play a role in skin health, the self-destruction of cancer cells, and the recycling of molecules in our cells. But studies show high levels of ceramides in heart disease, diabetes, obesity, heart failure, stroke, and fatty liver disease.

Like cholesterol, ceramides attach to the linings of blood vessels and can contribute to the onset of insulin resistance seen in type two diabetes. When experimental drugs were used to reduce ceramide levels in mice, they were protected from heart failure and insulin sensitivity improved.

Excess fat in our diet can lead to high levels of ceramide, and studies on one hundred patients show they could be good predictors of heart disease. However, tests for ceramides are expensive which is a barrier, but what's more important is whether lowering this lipid does improve the outcome of several major chronic diseases.

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