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What Are Triglycerides Levels and Why Do They Matter?

What Are Triglycerides

When most people ask what are triglycerides, it is because they associate the word with being bad for the body. In fact, they are incredibly important to many body processes and are considered the main form of fat within the body. The body uses triglycerides for energy, which is a good thing. However, when there is an abundance of them, the body will hang on to and store them for use at a later time. Sometimes, this storage comes in the form of excess fat in the midsection. Figuring out just what are triglycerides means understanding where they come from. In most cases, triglycerides are the result of digestion and the body breaking down fats. Sometimes they also are the byproduct of carbohydrates as well. While the fats are not always a bad thing, having triglycerides too high can be and for a multitude of reasons.

Triglycerides LevelsIn order to determine whether or not triglycerides levels are appropriate is most often done by a lipid panel. This is a simple blood test that is able to determine whether an individual’s blood fat levels fall within the acceptable triglycerides range. It is important to understand that the range may vary from one health care provider to another, but normal triglycerides levels typically fall below 150 mg/dL. The triglycerides range above that refers to individuals whose levels are slightly elevated and includes between 151-199 mg/dL. The range following slight elevation includes those with triglycerides levels falling between 200-499. Ranges with anything over 499 are being considered extremely high. But these numbers serve more as just a measurement method. They are used to assess risk. Most people wondering what are triglycerides also want to know what having elevated triglycerides levels can mean for the body.

Atherosclerosis is the biggest risk associated with having high triglycerides levels. In this condition, fats build up within the arteries, causing them to narrow and harden. In advanced cases, clots can form. Progressing atherosclerosis can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The numbers derived from a lipid panel are used to evaluate this risk and determine if lifestyle and dietary changes along with medications potentially, are needed to reduce the levels of fats in the blood.

The diagram below demonstrates the process of lipid metabolism by internal body organs:

Lipid MetabolismLifestyle and dietary changes are some of the best ways to achieve a normal triglyceride level. Diets that are high in refined carbohydrates are one of the biggest risk factors. Reducing the intake of these can have a dramatic impact on the levels of fats within the blood. It may seem odd to answer the question of what are triglycerides with fats so to speak, but Omega-3s are associated with reducing the levels of triglycerides in the blood. These fatty acids that come from seafood, nuts and seeds can help people achieve a normal triglyceride level when combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Triglycerides DietSometimes, achieving low triglycerides level requires the use of medications. In some cases, over the counter triglycerides medications can be employed such as fish oil or niacin. Other times, particularly when levels are very high and other risk factors for heart disease are present, medications called statins may be used. These are responsible for generally lowering cholesterol levels and also can lower the level of triglycerides in the blood.

So what are triglycerides? Well, they are fats that the body uses for energy and everybody needs them. But, having too much of them can be detrimental to the body and lead to serious and long term health consequences. High triglycerides are often the result of a lack of physical activity and a poor diet, meaning that reversing these risk factors can have a dramatic impact on keeping the body healthy and thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular illness and stroke. In fact, those wondering what are triglycerides can sort of consider them one way to measure overall health in terms of diet and exercise levels. Higher levels can indicate a diet that is high in refined and fatty foods or a lack of exercise, and be a means to understand important lifestyle changes that can be made in order to promote better overall health and a reduced risk of disease.

It is important to talk to a health care provider about triglycerides and consider a blood test to see what your triglycerides levels are at. If other risk factors are present, such as a family history of heart conditions, smoking or obesity, it is even more important to evaluate triglycerides levels. Proper medical care combined with appropriate changes to dietary intake and physical activity levels can lead to better overall health and a dramatically reduced risk of poor heart health.