Triglycerides are also known as triacylglycerol, TAG or triacylglyceride and they are a type of fat in the blood which is, in essence, the result of surplus calories that are consumed and then converted to fat and stored in fat cells for use at a later time. Triglycerides contain more than twice as much energy as do carbohydrates and proteins and they, therefore, play an essential role in metabolism as the body’s largest source for energy and the conveyers of dietary fats.
Although triglycerides are fats (a.k.a. lipids) are present in bloodstreams much like cholesterol, they differ from one another in that triglycerides provide energy while cholesterol is a crucial component in building cells and producing some hormones. Kept at appropriate levels, both, triglycerides and cholesterol are critical for good health. However, their access promotes heart disease and other health challenges.
Triglycerides and Health Issues
When individuals consume more calories than their bodies can use, triglycerides accumulate to unhealthful levels and high levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream has been directly associated with atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, which is a medical condition that is characterized by thickening of arterial walls due to the buildup of fatty matter, is then associated with heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Also attributed to high levels of triglycerides is an inflammation of the pancreas (an organ of the digestive and endocrine systems) that is known as pancreatitis.
Triglycerides are, in a way, important measures of heart health and at high levels they are often manifested as obesity and the metabolic syndrome (a wide-scoping group of conditions such as surplus fat around the waist, high blood pressure (hypertension), high triglycerides, high blood sugar (diabetes) and high cholesterol levels.)
Often, high levels of triglycerides are directly caused by overeating of fatty foods but that is not always the case. In some patients, high triglycerides are caused by poorly controlled type 2 diabetes; an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism); certain liver and/or kidney diseases; a genetic dysfunction which affects how the body converts fat to energy; or a side effect of some medications which may include beta blockers, birth control pills, diuretics, steroids or tamoxifen (a drug administered to breast cancer patients).
According to the American Heart Association and its guidelines for triglyceride levels; the normal levels of triglycerides are in ranges of less than 150 mg/dL and less than 1.69 mmol/L. Ranges of between 150 – 199 mg/dL and 1.70 – 2.25 mmol/L are borderline high levels of triglycerides. Anything beyond those borderline levels requires urgent attention.
Lowering Triglyceride Levels
The most effective ways for lowering triglyceride levels are:
- Dieting. Weight loss and reduction of caloric intake by: (a) reducing or eliminating the intake of refined sugars and simple carbohydrates (processed sugars and white flour) which raise the production of insulin which, in turn, increases triglycerides; (b) reducing or eliminating the intake of foods which are high in cholesterol (red meats, saturated fats, egg yolks and dairy products); (c) replacing the consumption of saturated fats with monounsaturated which are found in olive, peanut and canola oils and fish; (d) staying away from trans fats that are found in fried foods and pre-packaged snacks; and (e) avoiding alcoholic beverage whose smallest amounts raise triglyceride levels significantly.
- Participating in regular and routine daily exercise.
- Controlling existing medical conditions, particularly diabetes and high blood pressure.
- If all of the above are insufficient to lower high triglyceride levels, cholesterol lowering drugs such as niacin or fibrates may be prescribed.