Triglycerides, the lipids that are found in blood, have almost the same structure as phospholipids that form the membranes of cells. However, unlike phospholipids, triglycerides aren't able to mix with water due to their hydrophobic characteristic, which prevents them from merging into membranes. Triglycerides are attaching themselves to lipoproteins which permit them to travel through the bloodstream.
Functions of Triglycerides
1. Protect Internal Organs
Triglycerides build the adipose tissue which is also known as subcutaneous fat that is located just below the skin. This tissue acts as the main fat storage and has the protective role. It covers organs such as the heart, kidneys and the liver and acts as a cushion that protects these important organs from trauma and hasty body motions.
2. Provide Heat Insulation
In addition to its protective role, subcutaneous fat also acts as our body's heat insulator. It helps minimize wasting of heat through our skin, along with helping our bodies sustain the optimal temperature that our internal organs require to function properly.
3. Be an Energy Source
While our body's prime source of energy is carbohydrates, when it needs more power, it can get energy from triglycerides which are actually the human body's energy reserves. So, for example, whenever you are fasting or exercising for a longer period of time, triglycerides get broken down to fatty acids to provide you with the energy you need.
4. Help with Nutrient Absorption
One of the most important functions of triglycerides is the absorption of nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Human body is almost incapable of absorbing these nutrients without the help of these lipids. When triglyceride levels are too low, our body will not be able to get sufficient nutrients, which can cause vitamin deficiency and malnutrition.
The Risks of High Triglycerides
Milligram per deciliter (mg/dL) is the unit used in medicine to measure the concentration of triglycerides in one's blood. Normal triglycerides levels are considered to be less than 150 mg/dL; 150-199 mg/dL is borderline high; 200 to 499 mg/dL is considered high; and levels above 500 mg/dL are referred to as very high.
- Hypertriglyceridemia, the condition of having a high level of triglycerides in blood, is actually quite dangerous. It increases the risk of acquiring coronary artery disease, and can also lead to the blocking of your arteries, which will ultimately result in a stroke or a heart attack.
- Those suffering from diabetes, kidney problems, or hypothyroidism are at high risk of acquiring complications from hypertriglyceridemia.
- Levels of triglycerides that exceed 500 mg/dL could lead to the development of the life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas, also known as acute pancreatitis.
How to Lower High Triglycerides Levels
Now you know functions of triglycerides and the importance of having a normal level of them. When your triglycerides levels are high, what can you do to lower it?
1. Bring Your Weight Down
Losing 5-10% of the current weight can reduce triglycerides levels by 20%. This means that a 200 pounds person has to lose 10-20 pounds to become healthier.
2. Cut Down on Sugar
It has been proven that those whose daily consumption of sugar doesn't exceed 10% of their daily calorie intake have the lowest levels of triglycerides. It is best if you can keep that number lower than 5%. This means that you cannot consume more than 150 grams of sugar a day if you are a man, and 100 grams of sugar if you are a woman.
3. Consume Foods Rich in Fiber
Foods that are rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You should consume more of these foods to lower your triglycerides levels.
4. Start Consuming More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish like herring, lake trout, salmon, and sardines. It is recommended you eat these fish twice a week, but if you have high triglycerides, you should also take omega-3 supplements to provide your body with more of this fat. Remember to consult your doctor as these supplements can disrupt the clotting of your blood.
5. Take Medication That Lowers Triglycerides
In case you have a very high level of triglycerides (above 500 mg/dL), your doctor will probably advise you to start taking some medications like niacin, statins or fibrates to restore the functions of triglycerides. Nevertheless, remember that trying to lower your triglycerides with drugs alone won't diminish the chance of developing a stroke or a heart attack, which means that you should also watch what you eat and stay physically active.
6. Reduce Unhealthy Fats
Since fat is stored inside our bodies in form of triglycerides, the more trans fats and saturated fats we eat, the higher our triglycerides levels will become. Luckily, you can drastically lower these lipids by limiting the amount of unhealthy fats that you consume. Saturated fats exist in red meat, dairy products that are high in fat, butter, and chicken skin. You should also pay attention to your trans fats consumption, as they are more damaging to your body. You can do that by simply reading the nutritional information on the back of the product before buying it.