Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
The more we learn about the niche functions of certain organs or the unique chemical make-up of different fatty acid chains, the better equipped we are to take control over our health. The more the details we have about how our body works, the more empowered we are to make smarter, healthier choices — especially when it comes to achieving better levels of health.
That’s why diving deep into even the more complex, nuanced parts of our body can provide us with the kind of knowledge that makes for a healthier lifestyle.
Having a deeper understanding of what a triacylglycerol is, for example, is knowledge that can fuel you with the knowledge that will propel you towards your wellness goals.
And for those of us who want to learn how to keep our hearts healthy, brushing up on triacylglycerols can give us some key insights on how to do that.
What Is a Triacylglycerol?
Triacylglycerols are a type of fatty acid ester, meaning they are a combination of fatty acid and alcohol–at least that’s what they are on a chemical level.
Triacylglycerols make up a significant majority of dietary fat, the fats that we consume in our food.
Many animal fats, vegetable fats, and dairy fats have a triacylglycerol structure. This 10-dollar word has a real impact on your life. It plays a huge role in the food you eat, which plays a huge role in your blood lipid levels.
You might be slightly more familiar with triacylglycerols by another common name of theirs: triglycerides. Anyone who has taken a blood lipid test may be familiar with triglycerides.
But as their more chemistry-oriented name, triacylglycerol, suggests, there’s a lot more going on with triglycerides than we thought we knew.
What Do Triglycerides Do?
For most of us, our familiarity with triglycerides stems from our quest to lower the amount of them floating around through our bloodstream. Triglycerides are lumped together with our LDL and HDL cholesterols for a good reason, as they operate in a similar way and have similar effects on our health when we have too much of them.
But triglycerides are actually quite different from cholesterol.
Triglycerides are blood lipids (fats) that conserve the surplus calories consumed in our diet. Excess calories in our diet are converted into triglycerides, which are then stored in fat cells for later usage.
This is one way the human body evolved to keep extra energy reserves in the event that food is hard to come by, especially the kinds of energy-rich nutrients we get from animal fats or certain kinds of vegetables.
In those between-meal moments, triglycerides act as backup energy, holding tight to the saturated and unsaturated fats that a triacylglycerol’s structure attracts. When your body needs that extra boost, it will release hormones that reactivate the stored caloric energy within the triglycerides.
Basically, triglycerides, or triacylglycerols, serve us as energy storage devices when we’re in a pinch.
What Are the Disadvantages of Triglycerides?
The purpose of triglycerides makes a lot of sense: having that added insurance of energy reserves stored in the body is a great failsafe in the event food is hard to come by. Over the course of human evolution, this has been a massive benefit to our survival.
Early hunter-gatherers might not make good on their hunt, so triglycerides would be there to sustain them with the nutrients from their last meal. Even until our modern era, famine and food scarcity were a much more pressing reality than today.
When access to food is uncertain, the body makes up for it with triacylglycerols.
However, when we eat more calories than we burn, we generally start to see problems. Our access to food, especially meats and fried foods that would have been a rarity for our ancestors, has thrown our bodies for a loop.
We evolved to be able to conserve energy with the expectation that certain foods might be harder to come by. Now in the modern agriculture world, we have everyday access to foods that our ancestors might get once a month if they were lucky.
Our body doesn’t know what to do with this vast surplus of calories that we don’t need to burn off. As a result, our bloodstream becomes packed with fatty triglycerides, and health risks begin to emerge.
What Health Risks Are Associated With High Triglycerides?
Our bodies didn’t evolve to handle the high levels of triglycerides that have become common in modern diets.
When there are too many triglycerides in the body, to the point where we begin to suffer risks to our health, we develop what is called hypertriglyceridemia — clinically diagnosed with high triglyceride levels.
Hypertriglyceridemia may predict serious health risks.
When they accumulate in our blood vessels, high triglyceride levels may worsen the symptoms of arteriosclerosis–the calcifying of the arterial wall and narrowing of the arteries. And as these lipids pile up in our circulatory system, it makes blood circulation much more difficult for our body, and our risks of developing cardiovascular disease increase.
High triglycerides levels are associated with a wide range of risks to our heart health. Higher triglycerides have been linked to increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and hypertension.
In addition to increased risks to our heart health, high triglycerides have been associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
How Can I Overcome Hypertriglyceridemia?
Conditions like hypertriglyceridemia indicate that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Triglycerides serve our body as dietary insurance when faced with food scarcity — which is a great function.
But now, our modern diet overloads our body with the kinds of food that raise these energy-reserving triglycerides to unhealthy levels.
But that only means that hypertriglyceridemia has clear solutions. Our modern lifestyles often worsen our blood lipid levels, meaning that we can take back control over our high triglycerides by making smarter decisions about our health.
By knowing what a triacylglycerol does for our body, from a microscopic level to its resulting everyday effects on our health, we gain the ability to course-correct and make lifestyle changes that accommodate this natural part of our body.
So what are strategies that can help us overcome hypertriglyceridemia?
Seeing as how diet plays a huge role in creating triglycerides to begin with, it makes sense that addressing our dietary habits is a great place to start.
Going back to the chemical structure of triacylglycerols gives insight into where they appear most in our food. Triacylglycerols are fatty acid esters that appear most in animal fats. Foods like butter, margarine, and oils tend to raise our triglyceride levels.
Furthermore, the function of triglycerides — as energy storage from excess calories — makes sugary foods a significant source of them. Sugars are essentially empty calories for the body. When we don’t burn them off, our body does what it naturally does when it encounters excess calories: turns them into triglycerides for later usage.
Avoiding fats and sugars is a solid strategy for a triglyceride-lowering diet.
At Zizi, our Heart Health Reset program supplies you with a plant-first diet. Our meal plans are designed to lower your blood lipids with nutrient-rich foods that taste great and help fight hypertriglyceridemia.
Triglycerides are meant to give us surplus energy for when we exert ourselves. Another drawback of modern life is that it’s all too easy to go without exercise. We don’t need to move around as our ancestors used to, so our body is at a loss with no outlet to expend our stored energy.
Even just 30 minutes of exercise a day can have a triglyceride-lowering effect on your blood lipid levels.
Whether that’s a brisk walk around the neighborhood or a mile or two on the treadmill, getting your body the exercise it needs to burn off those surplus energy reserves is a key strategy to lowering your triglycerides and ensuring your long-term health.
Zizi Provides Care Without the Hoops
Zizi helps you keep a close on your blood lipid levels with our Heart Health Reset program.
Our mission is to prevent and address a heart attack before it happens. We do that by equipping you with the knowledge you need to get ahead of your blood lipid levels. Our Heart Health Reset program gives you a monthly at-home blood lipid test kit so you can keep a constant eye on your levels.
You also get proven supplements that promote healthy blood lipid levels and a dietary plan that can help you clear your arteries.
Learn more about lowering your cholesterol in 30 days with Zizi’s Heart Health Reset program here, or your money back.