What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are types of fat that are commonly found in the human body. The name ‘triglyceride’ means a combination of three kinds of fats combined with a form of glucose called glycerol. The three kinds of fats are - unsaturated fats, saturated fats, and a combination of both.
Triglycerides are majorly present in the fat deposits in the body. These are also present in the blood. These hold on to unused calories in the body and reserve them for future use.
Sources of Triglycerides
There are two ways your body receives triglycerides.
- From the food you eat
- Internally produced by the liver
Most of the foods we eat are sources of triglycerides. Excess fat in food directly gets stored as triglycerides, while excess carbohydrates and sugars are converted to triglycerides by the liver and stored.
Triglyceride Levels and Exercise
Your triglyceride levels increase when you consume more calories than what your body can burn. When you exercise, you burn extra calories and hence prevent the increase in triglyceride levels.
A 1982 study analyzed the levels of triglycerides in endurance athletes after long sessions of working out. The study concluded that there was a significant decrease in serum triglyceride levels after 1-hour and 2-hour sessions of exercise.
Another study considered the effects of aerobic exercise on serum triglyceride concentration levels. The study included 38 patients with existing Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). One group underwent aerobic training for eight weeks, and the other group remained sedentary.
The study concluded that people who exercised showed a lowered concentration of triglyceride levels.
A large-scale 2014 study analyzed the results of 13 independent studies relating aerobic exercise, resistance training, and combined exercise on triglyceride levels. According to the study:
- Regular physical activity brings down triglyceride levels
- High-intensity exercises are more effective than moderate exercises to bring down triglyceride levels
- Physical activity increases good cholesterol levels (HDL cholesterol) and reduces bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol)
Importance Of Triglycerides
Triglycerides are major energy sources in the body. Every unit of triglyceride contains more energy than one unit of protein or carbohydrates. That is why you feel full and sated when you eat a fat-based meal.
When you consume triglycerides, they reach the intestine. Here, they are combined with particles called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins transport lipid (fat) molecules through the plasma to other parts of the body.
Lipoproteins take the triglyceride particles to different muscles and tissues that need energy.
Triglycerides are stored in the fat tissues and the liver in the body. If you are suddenly deprived of food and are starving, stored triglycerides are broken down in the fat tissues and are used for energy. Triglycerides are hence very important backup energy sources.
Recommended Triglycerides Levels
According to the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCED), here are the different categories based on recommended triglyceride levels.
- Normal: <150 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL
- High: 200-499 mg/dL
- Very high: >500 mg/dL
Genetics And Its Influence On Exercise-induced Changes In Triglyceride Levels
Familial Hypertriglyceridemia - This is an inherited condition where the liver overproduces Very-Low-Density Lipoproteins (VLDL). VLDLs are responsible for carrying triglycerides to the tissues of the body from the liver. High VLDL levels also increase blood triglyceride values.
The CYYR1 Gene
The Cysteine and tyrosine-rich 1 gene (CYYR gene) contains instructions for the production of the CYYR protein. The exact functionality of this protein is not understood yet.
The A allele of the SNP rs222158 of this gene affects triglyceride training-response. This allele is associated with decreased triglyceride levels in response to exercise.
The GLT8D2 Gene
The GLT8D2 gene (Glycosyltransferase 8 Domain Containing 2 gene) is responsible for the production of the GLT8D2 protein. This protein plays a role in glycosyl transfer.
The C allele of the SNP rs2722171 of this gene is associated with a decrease in triglyceride levels in response to exercise.
The RBFOX1 Gene
The RBFOX1 gene (RNA Binding Fox-1 Homolog 1 gene) produces the RNA binding protein fox-1 homolog 1. Abnormalities in the protein can lead to neurodegenerative diseases.
The C allele of this SNP is associated with an increase in triglyceride levels in response to exercise
Non-Genetic Influences On Exercise-induced Changes In Triglyceride Levels
The type of exercise - If you want to bring down your triglyceride levels with exercise, choosing the right workout regime is important.
Aerobic exercises are the best choices for lowering triglycerides. You can also try resistance exercises. High-intensity exercises are better as they quickly burn fat and help lower your triglyceride levels.
Excess fat consumption - When you keep consuming excess fatty-foods, even when you exercise rigorously, the body will always have excess fat reserves, and hence the triglyceride values will not decrease.
Excess carbohydrate consumption - People who consume excess carbohydrates and simple sugars are at high risk for developing high levels of triglycerides. This condition is called carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia.
Studies show that when more than 55% of the energy consumed is through carbohydrates, the body works in converting excess carbohydrates into fat.
As a result, even if you are controlling the amount of fat you consume and are working out, your triglyceride levels will not reduce as much as you expected.
Smoking - A study compared the fasting triglyceride levels in smokers and non-smokers. It concluded that smokers had high fasting triglyceride levels when compared to non-smokers.
Another study analyzed the effects of smoking on aerobic capacity and concluded that the muscles in the bodies of smokers receive less oxygen than in non-smokers, and hence smokers are unable to perform intensive workouts.
Smoking increases triglyceride levels and brings down a person’s ability to exercise effectively. As a result, in smokers, exercising does not cause a considerable reduction in triglyceride levels when compared to non-smokers.
Why Are High Levels Of Triglycerides Problematic?
Triglyceride levels can be identified with a simple blood test. When your blood shows higher levels of triglycerides, here are risk factors to consider:
- [Thickening of arteries (arteriosclerosis) leading to blocks, strokes, and heart diseases] (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3234107/)
- Inflammation of the pancreas leading to loss of nutrients, weight loss, and diarrhea
- [Increased risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)] (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633701/)
Recommendations To Improve The Effectiveness Of Exercise In Lowering Triglyceride Levels
Try a combination of exercise and a calorie-restricted diet
The more regularly you work out, the more fat your body will burn. Studies show that when you don’t exercise and go on a calorie-restricted diet, it doesn’t affect triglyceride levels as much as exercise does. A combination of moderate to high-intensity exercise and a calorie-restricted diet plan works wonders.
Change your diet plan
Opt for a high protein and moderate fat and carbohydrate diet. A high-fiber diet is also considered beneficial. Restrict consuming trans and saturated fats. These changes help you exercise better and, as a result, reduce your triglyceride levels.
Slowly build your stamina
Sometimes, existing health conditions, age, and other related factors can prevent a person from taking up exercising. In that case, slowly build up your stamina. Start with low-intensity workouts like walking and then move on to aerobic and resistance training. With time, you will be able to work out enough to lower your triglyceride levels.
- Triglycerides are unsaturated and saturated fats that combine with a kind of glucose in the body called glycerol. Triglycerides are stored in the fat tissues and liver and are also present in blood serum.
- Triglycerides act as a reservoir of energy and are burnt when the body is starved.
- High levels of triglycerides can be a risk factor for heart conditions, stroke, arteriosclerosis, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- The more you exercise, the more fat stored in the body is burnt. This brings down triglyceride levels.
- Certain changes in the CYYR1, RBFOX1, and GLT8D2 genes all determine how exercise influences triglyceride levels in the body.
- The type of exercise you take up makes a difference in how quickly your triglyceride levels drop. Aerobic and resistance exercises are considered more effective.
- Excess consumption of carbohydrates and sugar and excess fat consumption bring down the effectiveness of exercise in lowering triglyceride levels.
- Smoking also hinders the ability of exercise to reduce triglyceride levels. A combination of a calorie-restricted diet and exercise works great in bringing down triglyceride levels.
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