Cholesterol and Triglycerides – The cardiovascular risk
Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids (fat particles) that are found in your bloodstream. They both perform important functions in the body; Triglycerides are unused calories stored away by the body for future energy use. Cholesterol is used to build and replace cells, some hormones and vitamin D. Both are essential for normal body functioning but when levels increase above the normal range, various health risks become increased.
Cholesterol and triglycerides are found in the blood and can contribute to the build-up of fatty substances that narrow and can block arteries. It is important to keep your cholesterol and triglycerides controlled to reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Many of us know that having high blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. However, do you know about triglycerides and the potential harm they may have when levels are elevated?
What are triglycerides and why are they so important?
Triglycerides are a type of lipid or fat found in the blood. Both cholesterol and triglycerides are necessary for life itself. Triglycerides are calories that have been stored away in the bloodstream for future energy use. They are derived from the food we eat as well as produced by the body. The liver is the main organ that produces triglycerides and cholesterol. Like glucose, triglycerides are broken down by the body and are used as a source of energy.
An unhealthy lifestyle and being overweight are the main causes of elevated triglycerides. However there are many factors that can contribute to the increase in triglyceride levels such as diabetes, problems with the thyroid (hypothyroidism), and genetic disorders. There are several steps that a person can take to reduce these levels and decrease health risks.
What causes high triglycerides?
High triglyceride levels may be caused by:
- Overeating/increased body weight
- High dietary intake of refined sugars
- High dietary intake of saturated fats
- Excess alcohol intake
- Lack of physical activity
However it can also be a result of underlying conditions, such as:
- Poorly managed diabetes
- Insufficient production of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism)
- Liver or kidney disease
- Side effect of certain medications (these include beta-blockers, diuretics, steroids, birth control pills)
- Some rare genetic disorders
Why it’s important to know how triglycerides may be harmful to your body
Excess triglycerides and cholesterol contribute to atherosclerosis* which increases the risk of heart disease.
* Atherosclerosis comes from the Greek words:
- Athero – paste
- Sclerosis – hardness
It is the general term for the depositing of yellowish plaques containing fats and cells within the walls of arteries (blood vessels). Atherosclerosis can cause hardening, narrowing or blockage of arteries which can block blood flow to the heart and brain and cause a heart attack or a stroke.
Studies have shown that people with high triglycerides have an increased risk of heart disease. High blood triglycerides tend to be associated with low levels of the “good” or “protective” cholesterol [also known as HDL (high density lipoproteins)], and can also increase the risks from “bad” cholesterol also known as “LDL” or “low density lipoproteins”. The health risk is further increased when high triglycerides are combined with other cardiovascular risk factors such as abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, raised blood sugars or low levels of HDL cholesterol, a condition known as metabolic syndrome.
What happens if you suffer from Type 2 Diabetes?
It is common to see excess levels of triglycerides in the blood among people with Type 2 diabetes. This is due to the decreasing effect of insulin (insulin resistance) in Type 2 diabetes that leads to an increase in the production of triglycerides in the liver and a reduction in the breakdown and removal of triglycerides from the blood.
Very high levels of triglycerides can also be associated with other problems, like pancreatitis.