What are triglycerides?

Jonathan A. Fialkow, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Triglycerides are a combination of sugar and fat that the body uses as energy. They can be elevated due to physical inactivity, smoking, excess consumption of alcohol or carbohydrates and in some genetic conditions. Triglycerides are often elevated in people who are overweight, obese or have diabetes.

A triglyceride level below 150 is considered desirable.

Many factors determine risk for heart attack, and everyone is different. Regular screenings and exams with your doctor are key to optimizing your health.
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your blood. Studies show that many people who have heart disease have high triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels, combined with low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (good cholesterol) or high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol), seem to speed up atherosclerosis (a disease process in which plaque builds up on the inner walls of the arteries, narrowing them and causing them to harden, thicken, and become less elastic).

Triglycerides are fatty acids that act as the basic building blocks of fats. Your body converts the excess calories you eat into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells. As needed, hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissue to meet your body's energy needs.

Triglycerides represent the majority of fats in the blood. Triglycerides are fatty compounds made of glycerol and fatty acids. Fatty acids can be saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated, and this determines whether the fatty acids increase or reduce blood cholesterol. In order to transport triglycerides in the blood, the gut has to make cholesterol, which then enters a transport particle (lipoprotein). This is why a high intake of fat increases blood cholesterol.
Merle Myerson, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Cardiovascular specialist Dr. Merle Myerson explains the definition of triglycerides. Watch Dr. Myerson's video for important tips and information about heart health.

Triglycerides are simple fatty acids found in both plants and animals. Vegetable oils contain triglycerides with unsaturated fatty acids and tend to be liquid at room temperature. Animal sources of triglycerides contain mostly saturated fatty acids and tend to be solid at room temperature.

Robert S. Kaufmann, MD
Internal Medicine
Triglycerides, which are produced in the liver, are another type of fat found in the blood and in food. Causes of raised triglycerides are overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol intake, and a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent of calories or higher). Recent research indicates that triglyceride levels that are borderline high (150/199 mg/dL) or high (200/499 mg/dL) may increase your risk for heart disease.

(Levels of 500 mg/dL or more need to be lowered with medication to prevent the pancreas from becoming inflamed.) A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher also is one of the risk factors of the metabolic syndrome.

To reduce blood triglyceride levels: control your weight, be physically active, don't smoke, limit alcohol intake, and limit simple sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages. Sometimes, medication also is needed.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. Robert S. Kaufmann.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.