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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.