With all of the news about cholesterol, it is no wonder that many people wonder just what are triglycerides. It is a good question because triglycerides and cholesterol are two different, yet related, things. Treating a problem with one does not necessarily correct a problem with the other.
Triglycerides are a kind of fat, or lipid, which is carried in your blood. The tri-, or three, of the word triglyceride, comes from the fact that three molecules of fat make up the triglyceride: three molecules of fatty acid join with one glyceride molecule. The primary function is to provide energy to the body’s cells.
Triglycerides and Cholesterol
Floating through your blood along with triglycerides is the HDL and the LDL cholesterol. Together these are referred to as blood lipids or fats. In fact, when you have a lab test called a lipid profile done, the level of triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol are measured.
While all of these blood fats are ‘lipids’ and all are tested in the lipid profile, each of these has a different function in the body. And not all are elevated at the same time. In fact, you can have a normal total cholesterol level, yet have a high triglyceride level. And the treatment of a high triglyceride level is different than the treatment of a high cholesterol level.
Where Do Triglycerides Come From?
It comes from two sources:
Our body makes them
We get from food come from the carbohydrates and fat we eat. The way our body produces it: for about 8 hours after you eat, your liver takes the triglycerides you ate from the bloodstream, wraps them in protein packages and sends them off to the tissues that need it to function. When there are no dietary triglycerides available, your liver produces them.
The liver ‘wraps’ the triglycerides it makes in protein packages, called lipoproteins, and lets these circulate in the bloodstream. As they circulate around, any cells that may need them for energy, take them in to be used. Any excess continues to float around or the extra is stored in the fat cells. Actually, most of the excess is stored in your body’s fat. When your body needs more of it, if there is none circulating in the bloodstream, your body sends out hormones to release the triglycerides from the fat cells.
Unfortunately, if you live the average American lifestyle, your body doesn’t need to call too often for your fat cells to give up some triglycerides- you have plenty floating around in your blood all the time. In fact, too much- and this high triglyceride level is the problem!
Now that you have learned just what are triglycerides, continue reading to learn about the damage they can do and how to score better on your next blood test
Lower Triglycerides :
Lower triglycerides are an important part of your health overall. Consider it just as important as lower weight, a lower blood pressure or a lower cholesterol level. It’s all a part of the ‘big picture’ of good health.
Many people assume that the triglyceride level is a sign of heart health. Perhaps that’s because it’s usually measured along with your cholesterol level. And, it is a good indicator, along with your cholesterol level, of the health of your heart. However, the level of triglycerides impact not just your heart, but other vital organs- organs that, if they fail, death is usually not far behind.
Lower Triglycerides and Your Pancreas
The pancreas is usually talked about in cases of high blood sugar and diabetes but the pancreas also plays a role in handling the number of triglycerides in your blood. The pancreas is a gland and it secretes not only insulin to help break down the sugar you eat, it also secretes an enzyme to help digest the fat you eat.
When excess amounts of sugar and fat are eaten, the pancreas needs to work very hard to digest it all. The harder it works, the more stress is placed on it. The pancreas, like a muscle when worked, gets bigger and thicker. Over time, continually overworking the pancreas can make it inflamed, causing a condition called pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis begins as an acute disease and can lead to a chronic problem. Continual abuse of the pancreas can lead to pancreatic failure and possibly pancreatic cancer.
Lower Triglycerides and Your Liver
Your liver plays a major role in the digestion of triglycerides and how your body uses it, it needs and handling the excess. Similar to the pancreas, a consistently high triglyceride level puts a lot of stress on the liver and leads to liver disease and eventual failure. So, it only makes sense that lower triglycerides promote the health of your liver.
Lower Triglycerides and Your Brain
If you have too many of it in your blood, your blood becomes thick and sludgy. Not only can this lead to heart attacks and strokes, but your brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs to function well. Forgetfulness and dementia can result from a long-term deficiency of the oxygen your brain needs.
Lower Triglycerides Means Better Health
So, overall, while your body needs triglycerides for health, too much is unhealthy. It is unhealthy not only for your heart, but also your liver, your pancreas and your brain. These are all very important body organs that affect so much more within your body. That is why these are often referred to as the vital organs- without them, you can’t live.
Normal Triglyceride Levels
Following the guidelines set by the American Heart Association: normal triglyceride levels are less than 150 mg/dl. It is tested on blood was taken after fasting overnight- preferably 12 hours.
What Tests Check My Triglyceride Levels?
Usually, your triglyceride level is checked as part of the lipid panel, which also checks your cholesterol level. If your doctor says he is going to have your cholesterol checked, that is typical with the lipid panel test. If you look at the test results, you may see the abbreviations TG or TRIG. These refer to ‘triglycerides’.
Why is This Considered Normal?
After collecting the results of vast numbers of lab tests, the data is calculated and the level that 95% of the population falls within is considered the normal triglyceride level. The data is further calculated to determine the other ranges we have for triglyceride levels. Here are the levels as per the National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines:
Normal Less than 150 mg/dL
Borderline-high 150 to 199 mg/dL
High 200 to 499 mg/dL
Very high 500 mg/dL or higher
Again, these are levels based on a fasting sample. If your level falls within the normal range, good for you. But do take a look at the rest of the lipid panel to make sure your cholesterol level is ok, along with your HDL and LDL levels of cholesterol.
How Often Should I Get Tested?
There is some disagreement about how often routine screening for high triglycerides and other lipid disorders should be done. Factors you need to consider is your past health history, your current health and what diseases and conditions run in your family. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that all people older than 20 years should have a lipid panel done every 5 years. If the test is abnormal, then testing may need to be more often. You can check out the NCEP guidelines here. The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends testing men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 45 unless there is a family history of heart disease or other risk factors for heart disease are present. Click here for the guidelines for a cholesterol test as recommended by the American College of Physicians.
What if My Triglyceride Level is Above Normal?
Certain medications may cause high triglycerides. Are you taking any of the following meds?
Birth control pills
Certain diseases and conditions may cause elevated triglyceride levels. Do you have any of the following?
And, finally, excessive alcohol consumption can cause your triglyceride level to be higher than normal. What’s excessive? More than one drink per day- one glass of wine, one bottle of beer or one ounce of hard liquor. If your triglyceride level falls above the normal range, consider having the test repeated before you make any decisions of treatment. Laboratories can make mistakes. Be sure to fast from all food and all drink except water for no less than twelve hours before you get your blood drawn. If, when you get the results from the second test, you find that your triglyceride level is high, then it’s time to look at what is causing the problem and what you need to do to lower your triglycerides to a normal level. Following the guidelines set by the American Heart Association: normal triglyceride levels are level less than 150 mg/dl .
High triglyceride levels are determined through a blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile. Oftentimes, it is referred to as a cholesterol check. Triglycerides are not the same thing as cholesterol but they are similar in that they are both what is called a ‘blood lipid’.
Here are the ranges that your triglycerides will fall into:
As you can see, a normal triglyceride level is anything less than 150 mg/dl. Anything 200 and above would be considered high triglycerides and treatment is needed, whether that is through diet changes, lifestyle changes or with medication. If you have high triglycerides, you have ‘hypertriglyceridemia’- simply doctor-speak for high triglycerides.
What about Borderline High Triglycerides?
Should they be treated? Triglyceride levels that are in the borderline high level should be reduced to the normal range. The latest research is showing that high triglycerides are dangerous. A borderline-high level should give you a warning that something is leading to high triglycerides and you need to head it off.
What are the Causes of High Triglyceride Levels?
The most common cause of a high triglyceride level is diet. A low protein, high fat and high sugar diet can lead to an increase in your triglycerides. Excessive alcohol consumption is another fairly common cause. And it doesn’t take much to be considered excessive! More than one beer a day or more than one ounce of hard liquor a day is enough to raise your triglyceride levels. An inactive lifestyle can cause your triglyceride levels to be high. As can stress.
Other Causes of High Triglycerides
There are some diseases that can influence your triglyceride level and cause it to be high:
Cirrhosis of the liver
Low thyroid or hypothyroidism
Diabetes that is poorly controlled
Genetic Cause of Hypertriglyceridemia
Familial Hypertriglyceridemia is a genetic disorder that runs in families and causes high triglyceride levels. Familial hypertriglyceridemia occurs in about 1 in 500 people in the U.S. The cholesterol levels of people with this disorder are usually in the normal range. But there will probably be a family history of early heart disease. Usually, familial hypertriglyceridemia isn’t discovered until puberty or young adulthood. And, frequently, obesity, high blood sugars, and high insulin levels are also found at the time.