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Metabolism is the process your body uses to make energy from the food you eat. Food is made up of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Chemicals in your digestive system (enzymes) break the food parts down into sugars and acids, your body’s fuel. Your body can use this fuel right away, or it can store the energy in your body tissues. If you have a metabolic disorder, something goes wrong with this process.
Lipid metabolism disorders, such as Gaucher disease and Tay-Sachs disease, involve lipids. Lipids are fats or fat-like substances. They include oils, fatty acids, waxes, and cholesterol. If you have one of these disorders, you may not have enough enzymes to break down lipids. Or the enzymes may not work properly and your body can’t convert the fats into energy. They cause a harmful amount of lipids to build up in your body. Over time, that can damage your cells and tissues, especially in the brain, peripheral nervous system, liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Many of these disorders can be very serious, or sometimes even fatal.
These disorders are inherited. Newborn babies get screened for some of them, using blood tests. If there is a family history of one of these disorders, parents can get genetic testing to see whether they carry the gene. Other genetic tests can tell whether the fetus has the disorder or carries the gene for the disorder.
Enzyme replacement therapies can help with a few of these disorders. For others, there is no treatment. Medicines, blood transfusions, and other procedures may help with complications.
Familial hypobetalipoproteinemia (FHBL) is a disorder that impairs the body’s ability to absorb and transport fats. This condition is characterized by low levels of a fat-like substance called cholesterol in the blood. The severity of signs and symptoms experienced by people with FHBL vary widely. The most mildly affected individuals have few problems with absorbing fats from the diet and no related signs and symptoms. Many individuals with FHBL develop an abnormal buildup of fats in the liver called hepatic steatosis or fatty liver. In more severely affected individuals, fatty liver may progress to chronic liver disease (cirrhosis). Individuals with severe FHBL have greater difficulty absorbing fats as well as fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and vitamin A. This difficulty in fat absorption leads to excess fat in the feces (steatorrhea). In childhood, these digestive problems can result in an inability to grow or gain weight at the expected rate (failure to thrive).