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What are triglycerides?
When we talk about fat we are usually referring to Triglycerides as this is the chemical form that most fat exists in food or in our bodies.
We get our triglycerides from fats eaten in the diet or we make them in our body from carbohydrates. The triglycerides are transported in the blood stream bound to cholesterol and proteins in complexes called lipoprotein particles. The calories that our bodies do not use immediately are converted to triglycerides and stored in our fat cells until required during periods between meals. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat cells so they meet the body's needs for energy.
Role of triglycerides.
Triglyceride is a very important energy source for our bodies to function normally. After exercise, fats are cleared rapidly from the blood stream as the muscle cells require fats for energy. Stored fat is also a very important insulation material and helps keep humans and animals warm by being located immediately beneath the skin. With advancing age this insulating layer is reduced.
Cause of excess triglycerides in the body.
Ingestion of excess quantities of fat or carbohydrate beyond the bodies needs results in a build up of triglycerides in fat cells and hence weight gain. This also occurs with excess alcohol intake. Triglycerides may also accumulate in the blood stream. This is referred to as hypertriglycerideamia. In some individuals fat may accumulate in the blood stream despite only moderate fat intake as the mechanisms in the body which process fat are not working properly. This can occur in conditions such as diabetes or disorders of the adrenal gland. However, the usual problem is due to genetic problems which affect the processing of fat. It is possible to measure the level of triglyceride by taking a blood sample after fasting and avoiding alcohol for over 12 hours.
High levels of triglyceride are associated with the occurrence of coronary artery disease in some people. However, when triglyceride levels are exceedingly high, the risk is not to the heart but to the pancreas gland which may become inflammed. This condition is called pancreatitis and is very serious often resulting in death.
Fasting triglyceride levels
Optimal triglycerides = < 1.5 mmol/l
Normal triglycerides = < 2.0 mmol/l
Borderline High triglycerides = 2- 4 mmol/l
High triglycerides = 4-11 mmol/l
Very high triglycerides = >11 mmol/l
Treatment of high triglyceride levels
Lifestyle changes are the most important aspect of treating high triglyceride levels and often the changes alone are sufficient to bring triglyceride levels back to normal.
- Reduce weight. Ideally keep your body mass index between 20 - 25. The body mass index is the ratio of your weight in kilograms (1 Kg = 2.2 pounds) to your height in metres squared (1 inch = 0.0254 metres). Weight in Kg / (height in metres)2
- Do not take excess quantities of carbohydrates
- Reduce the saturated fat and cholesterol content of in your diet.
- Cut down on your alcohol intake considerably. If you suffer from very high triglyceride levels, it is best to avoid alcohol entirely. Consult with your doctor.
- Regular exercise helps clear triglyceride levels.
- Some medicines also increase triglyceride levels and you should check this with your doctor so as to avoid the problem.
Since high triglycerides are often associated with other risk factors for heart disease, it is important to also treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes.