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Triglycerides, as major components of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) and chylomicrons, play an important role in metabolism as energy sources and transporters of dietary fat. They contain more than twice as much energy (9 kcal/g) as carbohydrates and proteins. In the intestine, triglycerides are split into glycerol and fatty acids (this process is called lipolysis) (with the help of lipases and bile secretions), which can then move into blood vessels. The triglycerides are rebuilt in the blood from their fragments and become constituents of lipoproteins, which deliver the fatty acids to and from fat cells among other functions. Various tissues can release the free fatty acids and take them up as a source of energy. Fat cells can synthesize and store triglycerides. When the body requires fatty acids as an energy source, the hormone glucagon signals the breakdown of the triglycerides by hormone-sensitive lipase to release free fatty acids. As the brain can not utilize fatty acids as an energy source, the glycerol component of triglycerides can be converted into glucose for brain fuel when it is broken down. Fat cells may also be broken down for that reason, if the brain's needs ever outweigh the body's.

In the human body, high levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream have been linked to atherosclerosis, and, by extension, the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, the negative impact of raised levels of triglycerides is lower than that of LDL:HDL ratios. The risk can be partly accounted for by a strong inverse relationship between triglyceride level and HDL-cholesterol level.

Another disease caused by high triglycerides is pancreatitis.

Reducing triglyceride levels

Cardiovascular exercise and lower carbohydrate diets are suggested for reducing triglyceride levels.

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish (in the order of 5 grams of omega-3 per day), one or several grams of niacin (mega-dose vitamin B-3) per day and some statins are used to reduce triglyceride levels.

Fibrates have been used in some cases as some fibrates can bring down TGs substantially. However they are not used in first line as they can have unpleasant or dangerous side effects.

Alcohol abuse can cause elevated levels of triglycerides.


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