Triglycerides form the major portion of fats in the body, which only indicates their importance and how vital their functions are to the body. High levels of triglycerides can be a dangerous companion but having them within the normal limits makes them indispensable due to their vital functions and benefits.
They are found in foods from plant and animal sources while cholesterol is mostly sourced from foods of animal origin.
Sources of vegetable origin include vegetable oils such as sunflower and peanut oil, which stay liquid at room temperature.
Sources of animal origin include meat and dairy products, which are solid or semisolid at room temperature.
Triglycerides are not soluble in water and therefore, cannot freely move around in the blood. The soluble proteins in the blood help them to do so by binding to them. This bond between the proteins, triglycerides, and cholesterol is called lipoproteins and is important to help the cholesterol and triglycerides to perform their many functions.
We have the
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL), the good cholesterol
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the bad cholesterol
- Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), with triglycerides as the major component
VLDL is the lipoproteins, which contains the highest amount of triglycerides. Having too much of VLDL in the blood is not good because high triglycerides increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, keeping an eye on all these levels in important.
That does not mean triglycerides are bad. They are dangerous if you let their blood levels rise. At normal levels, they are absolutely harmless. As a matter of fact, if you look at their functions in all living organisms in the body, you will realize their importance.
What are their normal and high levels?
The lipid profile is the name given to test, which checks your blood for levels of all types of cholesterols and triglycerides.
Chart of Triglyceride Levels
- Normal Triglyceride Levels: Less than 150 per deciliter
- Borderline Triglyceride Levels: Between 150 to 200 mg/dl
- High Triglyceride Levels: More than 200 mg/dl
- Very High triglyceride Levels: More than 500 mg/dl
The high and very high triglyceride levels put you at a very high risk of dangerous complications. The American Heart Association warns that elevated triglyceride levels, referred to as hypertriglyceridemia, are associated with coronary artery disease.
Functions of triglycerides
See what triglycerides do in your body vis-à-vis functions and how indispensable they can become to your body.
Triglycerides provide energy
Carbohydrates and proteins provide you with energy, but triglycerides provide you with twice the amount of energy.
When fats are broken down and converted into energy, all the calories are not necessarily used as energy and those that are not, are converted into triglycerides and stored in the adipose tissue (fat tissue) of the body.
These triglycerides are then converted into energy as and when the body requires it.
- Layers of adipose tissue under the skin provide insulation against extremes of temperature.
- Adipose tissue around the organs provide a protective cushion against trauma.
Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K require triglycerides to become soluble and get stored. Low triglycerides in the body will cause a deficiency of these vitamins.
By far, one of the most important functions of triglycerides is its contribution to the formation of the cell membrane. Along with the phospholipids, they form the lipid bilayers.
This contribution to the structure of the cell membrane protects the inside of the cell from the outside environment.
That does not mean that the cell membranes are rigid. They are fluid and have to be because there are certain things that need to cross this barrier from inside out or from outside to inside.
The lipid bilayers contain certain proteins that scan such substances and selectively allow the transit of the required chemicals across the cell membrane.
Source of other lipids
Triglycerides are an important source of compounds that are used to manufacture other lipids such as cholesterol, which again has its own functions to perform in the body.