Triglycerides: what they are and how they affect our health

Among the different substances that constantly travel through our blood, there are lipids, molecules with very important functions for living organisms. The most common type of these molecules are triglycerides.

At proper levels, these can keep our bodies in balance, but otherwise triglycerides can pose serious health risks. Likewise, they are one of the most medically controlled molecules.

In this article, we will see what triglycerides are, their function and risks to the body and how we can keep their levels in balance.

    What are triglycerides and how do they work?

    Triglycerides are the most common type of lipid in our bloodstream. As such, it is sets of molecules composed mainly of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are also water-insoluble molecules found in different living things, performing different functions depending on the specific type of lipid in question.

    For example, lipids such as steroid hormones can be used to regulate the function of specific cells. Another type of lipid, known as structurally functional lipids, can be used to shape cell membranes. Likewise, the type of lipids we know as triglycerides can be used to generate the energy stores necessary for our daily activity.

    by absorption, transport and metabolism organs such as the small intestine and the liver are involved in the latter; anatomical structures such as the lymphatic system; and molecules such as lipoproteins.

    How do we get them?

    As with other nutrients, triglycerides reach our bodies through the foods and substances that we consume on a daily basis. The substances that most often provide triglycerides are butter and oilsAlthough they are also generated by consuming calories from different foods.

    Depending on their components and how often or how much they are consumed, certain foods and substances promote the process of fat absorption. However, there are others that can hinder this process, causing it to build up.

    Concretely, when we consume calories that our body does not need immediately (additional calories), these are converted into triglycerides and deposited in different cells and tissues. When done in moderation, this process aims to keep our body with the necessary energy reserves day by day.

    In other words, when we have an activity that requires high levels of energy, the cells containing triglycerides are released and move to different tissues, to nourish them and keep them active. However, when triglycerides build up excessively and unnecessarily, they can cause serious health problems.

      Normal level and high level

      As we can see, triglycerides have both a function and an important risk in our organism. Their concentration levels they are measured by a test which also allows us to know the cholesterol levels. Where applicable, triglycerides are measured in milligrams per deciliter (abbreviated as: mg / dl).

      The triglyceride levels measured from normal to very high for adults are as follows:

      • Normal: less than 150 mg / dl.
      • Upper limit: 150 and 199 mg / dL.
      • Alt: 200 to 499 mg / dL.
      • Very high: from 500 mg / dl.

      These levels can be detected with a test that involves taking blood from the vein inside the elbow. Blood can also be taken from the backs of the hands. In all cases, the test is carried out after 12 hours of fasting.

      Consequences of high triglyceride levels

      From a high limit of triglyceride concentration increase your chances of developing heart disease and / or metabolic syndrome; that is, when the same person has all the risk factors for cardiovascular disease: central obesity, diabetes, high levels of triglycerides and lipoproteins and low density, and high blood pressure.

      Additionally, if triglyceride levels increase to 150 mg / dL or more, these levels are considered hypertriglyceridemia. As the name suggests, this is the very high concentration of triglycerides in the blood. The presence of hypertriglyceridemia indicates that it has potentially increased the risk of developing coronary heart disease, although it is also a risk factor for acute pancreatitis if it occurs at even higher levels (when it reaches 1000 mg / dl or more).

      Hypertriglyceridemia has also been associated with the development of arteriosclerosis; both for triglyceride levels and for the cholesterol content of the remaining lipoproteins (sets of proteins and lipids that transport fats in the body, and which being leftovers, these are the lipoproteins converted into fatty acids and accumulated over the course of the day)

      In this sense, although hypertriglyceridemia only refers to the increase in triglycerides, in some cases it can be linked to hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol level), which may indicate a high risk of suffering from different types of diseases. cardiovascular, such as ischemic heart disease and myocardial infarction.

      Causes and treatment of high triglycerides

      The main cause of high triglyceride levels is the intake of more calories than we can burn. This amount is mainly caused by excessive consumption of sugar and saturated fat. In addition, certain lifestyles, such as smoking or frequent alcohol consumption, are two risk factors for high triglyceride levels.

      On the other hand, some medical conditions that can generate high triglycerides are as follows:

      • Overweight and obesity.
      • Thyroid disease.
      • Type 2 diabetes.
      • Kidney or liver disease.
      • Genetic conditions, such as familial combined hyperlipidemia.
      • Alterations in the activity of lipoproteins (those that regulate lipid metabolism in the body).

      In this regard, the prevention and treatment of high triglyceride levels consists of prevent lipids from building up in our blood and tissues, By preventing the risk factors mentioned above.

      One of the most important treatments is to change your lifestyle. For example, it is essential to maintain control of our weight through regular physical activity combined with a balanced diet. Specifically, it is important to limit the intake of added sugars, saturated fats, flour or refined foods, as well as alcoholic beverages, as all of these produce extra calories which are converted into triglycerides and often accumulate in excess in our body. . Instead of saturated fat, they can use easily absorbed fats derived from olive oil or fish.

      Likewise, and in the event that high triglyceride levels require medical treatment to reduce them, it is common to prescribe drugs which are also used to treat cholesterol. These include nicotinic acid, fibrates, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors.

      Bibliographical references:

      • MedlinePlus (2018). Triglycerides. MedlinePlus. Accessed August 20, 2018.Available at
      • Texas Heart Institute (2018). Metabolic syndrome. Texas Heart Institute. Accessed August 20, 2018.Available at
      • González-Chávez-A., Simental-Mendía, LI and Elizondo-Argueta, S. (2011). High triglyceride / HDL cholesterol ratio and insulin resistance. Surgery and Surgeons, 79: 126-131.
      • Nordestgaard, B., Benn, M., Schnohr, P., et al. (2007). Non-rapid triglycerides and risk of myocardial infarction, ischemic heart disease and death in men and women. JAMA, 298 (3): 299-308.
      • Gan, Sl., Edwards, AL., Symonds, CJ et al. (2006). Hypertriglyceridemia-induced pancreatitis: a case-based review. World, J. Gastroenterology, 12 (44): 7197-7202.

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