Clash of the Fats: Triglycerides Verses Essential Fatty Acids
By Greg Post
I confess that as a child I used to occasionally watch professional wrestling. For the true fan I suppose it is pronounced rasslin". Once in a while my kids will find a match on television. I try to explain to them that all the hard work to which they apply themselves during the week to bolster their intelligence can be nearly eradicated in less than one hour by watching such theatrics. My ten year old simply responds by saying something in Latin that I don't understand.
The intrigue, I presume, is that of battle. As boys we hoped that one day we would be like these titans. Not in their goofy shenanigans, but in their sheer power. As men most of us realize that we never were like them. We enjoy the battle from the sofa or in our minds. But we do enjoy it. We enjoy the indomitable spirit, the raw strength, the clash. It is part of the human condition. Man against man, champion against champion.
Most of our battles are fought on fronts that are much more mundane. But they are real battles. The problem is some of our most significant conflicts are fought on such ordinary fronts that we tend to ignore them. Health issues are like that. As I sit here writing these words I realize I do that. I ignore preventive measures because the tyranny of the urgent captures my attention and occupies my time. After all I have five children with another on the way. I only have time to deal with the most pressing matters. When I get sick I must deal with it. But I find it difficult to take extra measures to prevent the ailments in the first place. If we are talking about a stomach virus or the common cold the issue is not very serious. But what about heart disease? Since the early 20th century heart disease has been climbing. Actually it is an epidemic. Ignoring it could be much more serious than catching a cold. Yet I ignore it. Most likely so do you.
For a long time we have known that high total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol are bad news for heart health. But more recently it has become increasingly obvious that high triglycerides elevate one's risk of developing heart disease. We hear about it on the television and we read about it on cereal boxes. Yet we ignore it. But perhaps by using a little imagination we might have our interest peaked a bit. What if we could tap into the intrigue of the battle in relation to triglycerides?
Triglycerides are fats. That immediately turns many of us off. Parenthetically triglycerides are necessary for life and are a good part of our wonderful design. But we are concerned with high triglycerides. These are the bad guys. They wear the black hats. These are represented by the wrestler who wears the ugly hood to conceal his identity. He is vile and unattractive. He spits as he yells his taunts. As he mocks all his opponents the audience mocks him. The only thing attractive about him is the blonde in his corner calling him baby. We know she is an add-on but she is part of the package.
High triglycerides are a nasty business. They have their attractive side, mostly in the sweets and fats that permeate our diets. But don't be fooled. They are bad news. They are not worth the blonde in the corner.
What we need to do battle with this villain is someone in a white hat. We need someone who tips his hat to the ladies and who enters the saloon but never drinks whiskey. He is always a gentleman. But he has a deadly aim. Few wrestlers wear hats but we know the good guys when they enter the ring. They have a neat appearance, are polite to everyone and the crowd loves them. But in many respects they are like their opponents. They are human. And they are strong. They just happen to be on the opposite side of the conflict. They are on the right side.
In our universe there is a sense of drama. It is interesting to me that one of the greatest opponents to high triglycerides is also a fat. Like two wrestlers in the ring or two soldiers on the battlefield, what makes the battle so interesting is that two like things are paired up for the war.
In our battle for heart health two champions on either side of the conflict pair up against each other. It is a strange concept to many in our age of drugs. But if you want to reduce your triglycerides do so with another fat.
There is a whole list of fats that are good for us. They are called essential fatty acids. They are essential in the sense that they are necessary for health. But they are also essential in that our bodies can not make them. We must consume them in our diets. In other words we must eat fat to reduce the effects of fat. If we want to lower our triglycerides one of the most effective things we can do is eat more fat.
Sounds great doesn't it? Like most things, however, we must be selective. All essential fatty acids are necessary for health. Not all of them, however, should be consumed in unlimited amounts. In relation, though, to reducing triglycerides one essential fatty acid rises to the top like a champion. That one is called omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acid has been studied and tested and shown many times to reduce triglycerides. The science is incontrovertible. So much so that even the American Heart Association recommends two to four grams of omega-3 per day for patients with high triglycerides.
Omega-3 is found in many places. Even vegetarians have a selection. But for lowering triglycerides the marine sources of omega-3 have been shown to be much more potent than their vegetative cousins. EPA and DHA (the two potent forms of marine omega-3) are found in fish oils from cold water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna. Cultures that have diets high in fish (marine source omega-3) show a low incidence of heart disease. Their blood platelets are less sticky, their cholesterol levels are healthier and their triglycerides are lower. All this from eating fat.
So what should we do? If we can ignore the potential problems of pollutants like mercury we should eat more fish, especially cold water fish, lots of it. Not only would this replace many of the saturated fats in our other dietary choices but it would counteract some of the damage incurred from less healthy fats.
But for many of us eating fish is the exception rather than the rule. We would rather have the blonde in the corner. But in so doing we are getting the villain in the mask. It is all part of the package. Applying a little discipline in our dietary choices can help a great deal. But even a little discipline may not be enough. Consuming two to four grams of EPA plus DHA per day to reduce triglycerides takes a lot of fish eating. Unless you live in an igloo and take a dogsled to work you may find it difficult to eat enough fish. Fish oil supplements may be your answer. There are many on the market. Just make sure you buy yours from a trusted source. You want to make sure you are getting what you are paying for (omega-3) and nothing else (mercury).
Heart health does involve a sense of the theatric. In your battle to reduce triglycerides enlist your own titan. In many cases there is no need to send a drug to do a fat's job.
For more information on triglycerides, healthy diets and omega-3 please use the links below:
About The Author
Greg Post has degrees in science, divinity and philosophy and is currently an I.T. developer.