When we get our medical laboratory studies done, we often have our blood triglyceride levels checked, along with our other blood work. Well, just what are triglycerides, and why is it important to have this medical blood test done?
First, what are triglycerides? Triglycerides are important to human life and are the main form of fat in the human body. When you think of fat developing and being stored in your hips or belly, you really are thinking about the storage of triglycerides as body fat. Medical scientists agree that our body fat is made up of about 95 percent triglycerides, meaning that our body fat is made up almost entirely of triglycerides. Elevated triglycerides come from the excess food and drink we consume, because our body will never let any excess food and drink energy pass out of our body. It saves this excess dietary intake in our body fat (in the form of triglycerides) for our potential future energy needs.
Here is how our body works to store triglycerides in our body as body fat. When we eat, our body uses this food and drink for current energy needs. It then converts any excess food and drink that we do not use right away for energy into triglycerides.
Jim Surrell, M.D.
The triglycerides are then stored in our fat cells. Later, if energy is not readily available in our blood stream, hormones release triglycerides from body fat to serve our energy needs between meals. At this time we are burning body fat to satisfy our human body cellular energy needs.
So, be aware that our triglycerides, stored as body fat, serve as a source of energy when there is no readily available energy source in our blood stream. However, when we consume excess food and drink beyond our current energy needs, we store this excess as triglycerides in our body fat.
Here are the normal blood test values for triglycerides: Normal = Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL); Borderline High = 150 to 199 mg/dL; High = 200 to 499 mg/dL; Very High = 500 mg/dL or above. Further, the American Heart Association recommends a triglyceride level of 100 mg/dL or lower as being the optimal level to improve your heart health.
What are the health risk factors if a person has high triglycerides? High triglycerides are thought to contribute to hardening of the arteries and this clearly increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. High triglycerides are often a sign of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke as well. This includes overweight and obesity that results in too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels.
So, what can we personally do to have a healthy level of triglycerides? If one has been diagnosed with high triglyceride levels, it is very important to lower these levels with lifestyle changes including dietary changes, weight loss, and increased physical activity. The good news is that your blood triglyceride levels often respond well to these dietary and lifestyle changes.
If you're overweight, losing just 5 to 10 pounds can help lower your triglycerides. Motivate yourself by focusing on the benefits of losing weight, such as more energy and improved health. Much of the extra food and drink we consume is converted to triglycerides and stored as body fat.
Heavy alcohol consumption is also known to elevate triglycerides. Be sure to avoid the high sugar foods, because many simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugar and foods made with white flour, will increase triglycerides.
Editor's note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of "SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet," has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged.