By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
Triglycerides are a type of fat that plays a major role as an energy source when they are metabolized in the human body. They are very rich in energy, containing double the energy of either carbohydrates or proteins that can also be used to supply energy to the body.
As a normal component of the vascular system, triglycerides are continually in circulation ready to be metabolized to provide a source of energy. When present in excess, triglycerides can be stored in fatty deposits, which may lead to obesity and related health conditions if it extends over time.
The chemical structure of triglycerides is composed of a glycerol molecule that is bound to three fatty acid chains. These three fatty acids can vary on each triglyceride to create many different types of triglycerides.
Through a process known as lipolysis, triglycerides are broken down to release the fatty acids from the monoacylglycerol in the intestine, simultaneously secreting lipases and bile. The triglycerides can then be reconstructed in the enterocytes to incorporate cholesterol and proteins to form chylomicrons. Chylomicrons then move into the lymph system and the vascular system to be transported around the body as an energy supply.
It is the glycerol component of the triglyceride that is the most useful to the body in providing a source of energy, as it is easily converted into glucose, which can be used to supply the brain with energy. The fatty acids can also provide energy, but must be converted to a ketone chemical structure in order to be utilized.
Triglycerides as a complete molecule cannot be absorbed into the cells of the body from the bloodstream and must be broken down into its separate components in order to be utilized.
When there is an excess of triglycerides in the body, they can be stored in the liver or in fat cells to supply the body with energy when it is required. This is a natural process that allows the body to go for longer periods of time without eating, as it has a stored energy source.
The hormone glucagon is released when triglyceride stores need to be activated, signaling the lipase to start the reaction and free the fatty acids. This allows the triglycerides to circulate in the blood stream once again to provide energy to cells that require it.
High levels of triglycerides, also known as hypertriglyceridemia, is a common issue for many populations in the world today, which is strongly related to diet and the quantity of fat consumed in the diet. This is because triglycerides are formed from foods that have high fat content and are then stored as excess in fatty deposits, linking it strongly to obesity.
As a result, high triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk of serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Accordingly, people that have high levels of triglycerides should be advised to reconsider their diet and any habits to overeat in order to lower their triglyceride levels and reduce their risk of these conditions.
Some individuals may also have high triglyceride levels due to other circumstances such as excessive alcohol consumption, uncontrolled diabetes, hormonal abnormalities kidney or liver disease, medication or a genetic disorder. If this is the case, the primary cause should be managed appropriately in order to manage the triglyceride levels.
Last Updated: Jun 14, 2015