Triglyceride – The Neglected Fat

This article is Part 2 of my earlier  article “What is Cholesterol- The Good and the Bad”

While people are aware of Cholesterol and know that it can be harmful if present  in excess in the blood, few know about Triglycerides and their potentially harmful effects.

For a long time the role of triglycerides in the causation of heart disease was uncertain. Their nature and function is now better understood.

When the doctor measures your cholesterol, he also asks for a Triglyceride level.

What are Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of Fat, formed from one molecule of Glycerol, combined with three Fatty Acids. They come from the food we eat as well as being produced in the body. See my Article– What is all the Fuss about Fats”

The Fatty Acids can be either saturated, mono-unsaturated or poly unsaturated.

Saturated fatty acids typically occur in fats of animal origin, including dairy foods and fat in meat.  

monounsaturated fatty acids occur in plant fats, such as , Olive and Canola oil, and nuts such as macadamia.

polyunsaturated fatty acids are of two main types: omega-3’s, which occur in fish oils  and omega-6’s which are present in plant

oils such as  safflower and sunflower seeds

The type and proportion of fatty acids determines  the physical properties and appearance of the the triglyceride . For example cheese and butter are solid at room temperature while olive oil, safflower and canola are usually liquid.

When we ingest Fat in our diet, the digestive process called lipolysis breaks down the triglycerides into glycerol and fatty acids which are transported to the small intestine. In the wall of the small intestine there are cells called enterocytes. The fatty acids are absorbed into these cells and  they are re-formed into triglycerides and combined with cholesterol (VLDL) and proteins into particles called chylomicrons . These chylomicrons are excreted  from the cells, collected and transported via the Lymphatic System before they enter the blood stream via the large vessels near the heart. They are then used by various tissues for energy or taken up by fat cells for storage.

The Function of Triglycerides

The fat tissue under the skin of animals, birds and fish is mainly made of triglyceride and is essential for life ; it is

– part of the heat regulating system. It insulates the body against heat loss

– provides energy for metabolism and various bodily functions.                                              

Whaling is a very topical subject at the moment in the world-wide press. In the 1800’s, the whalers were very aware  of the importance and value of the fat under the skin of whales. This ” blubber”, which is mainly made of triglycerides, serves to insulate the whale against the cold and provide energy for its metabolism.

Blubber was melted down and transported in barrels to Europe where it provided the oil for lighting and heating for many years.

How is Triglyceride Measured

In humans it is possible to find the type and measure of fats ingested in the everyday diet by taking a biopsy of the sub-cutaneous fat and analyzing its fatty acid content.

Normally your Doctor will check your blood triglyceride level, when checking your Cholesterol. This is done after an over-night fast   ( ideally at least 12 hours ) . This is necessary for consistency in testing , because soon after a meal the blood triglyceride level will be high due to absorption from fatty food. The level will remain high for several hours.

Because, Alcohol, certain medications and over-the- counter products and supplements may affect your Triglyceride level, it is important to make certain that your Doctor knows exactly what you are taking.  It may be necessary to stop these for a short period prior to a test. But remember NEVER stop taking prescribed medication unless advised to do so by your Doctor.

Drugs that can increase triglyceride measurements include beta blockers, cholestyramine, oestrogens, protease inhibitors, retinoids, certain anti psychotics, and birth control pills.

Drugs that can decrease triglyceride measurements include Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), asparaginase, clofibrate, fenofibrate, fish oil, gemfibrozil, nicotinic acid, and statin medications.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia make the following recommendations:

The suggested target levels for blood cholesterol are:
– LDL-cholesterol <2.0 mmol/L
– HDL-cholesterol > 1.2 mmol/L
– Triglycerides <1.5 mmol/L

in the absence of any other risk factors. If other diseases are present the recommendation is for an even lower level

Why should we be concerned about Triglycerides.

Triglycerides play an important role in diseases such as Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Disease.

The metabolism of Triglycerides(TG) is intimately linked to that of Cholesterol, both LDL and HDL.  Changes in Triglyceride levels can  affect LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL  levels. This is especially so in relation to HDL – the “good cholesterol”.  When there is a rise in triglyceride there tends to a fall in HDL which is not good . When TG is low the HDL tends to be high  – this is good.  Therefore it is important for the Doctor to consider each of these fats together. For a long time this was not the case and triglycerides were the ” forgotten fats”.

  • A raised TG can have an effect on certain clotting factors in the blood. This can increase the tendency for thrombosis to occur and an increase in the risk of heart attack.
  • There are Familial diseases in which TG and Cholesterol are raised. These result in heart disease at an early age.
  • Under-active thyroid disease (hypothyroidism ) can result in obesity, elevated Lipids  and heart disease
  • Raised Triglycerides may be one of the first signs of Diabetes.

I would recommend that you look at my article on Cholesterol, for a more details regarding HDL and LDL

There are many excellent books available on the subject discussed and related topics at—–



Also check out Dr Al Sears excellent Krill Oil product, Ultra-omegano”  and the section, “Heart Health” by clicking on this Link – “ Can Your Stinky Fish Oil Do This? ‘


We have seen that  ‘Triglyceride – The Neglected Fat’, has an important role in the causation of Heart Disease and Diabetes particularly but, is also implicated in other potentially serious medical conditions.

In my next article I will deal with some of the important Solutions to the problem of Hyper-triglyceridaemia and how we can bring about change.

Doctor  Bill

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