Medical Definition of Lipids

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Lipids: Another word for "fats." (Please see the various meanings of Fat.) Lipids can be more formally defined as substances such as a fat, oil or wax that dissolves in alcohol but not in water. Lipids contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen but have far less oxygen proportionally than carbohydrates.

Lipids are an important part of living cells. Together with carbohydrates and proteins, lipids are the main constituents of plant and animal cells.

Cholesterol and triglycerides are lipids. Lipids are easily stored in the body. They serve as a source of fuel and are an important constituent of the structure of cells.

Lipids include fatty acids, neutral fats, waxes and steroids (like cortisone). Compound lipids (lipids complexed with another type of chemical compound) comprise the lipoproteins, glycolipids and phospholipids.

Etymology: Whereas the everyday term "fat" comes from the Old English (from "faett" meaning crammed or adorned), the more scientific term "lipid" comes from the Greek "lipos" which referred to animal fat or vegetable oil.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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