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Difference Between Triglycerides & Cholesterol

author image Ken Kashubara
Ken Kashubara, author of "Brave New Workouts," owns Kash Fitness in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. As a health and fitness writer, Kashubara has published numerous articles for various magazines, websites, companies and newsletters. After earning his degree from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a 4-year letter winner in football, Kashubara received personal training certifications from ACE and NASM, as well as a metabolic specialist certification.
Difference Between Triglycerides & Cholesterol
Too much cholesterol and triglycerides can contribute to heart disease.

Triglycerides and cholesterol are both lipids (fats). They both circulate in the bloodstream and are escorted through the blood vessels by lipoproteins. High levels of either can cause heart and circulatory problems. The differences between the two are how they perform inside the body.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, the major difference between triglycerides and cholesterol is that triglycerides are burned to create energy while cholesterol is used to build cells and certain hormones. Cholesterol are builders inside the body. Triglycerides are broken down by the body. Both triglycerides and cholesterol are manufactured in the body; however, the body produces as much cholesterol as it needs on its own. The body relies on food consumption to create triglycerides.

Triglyceride Structure

Triglycerides get their name from their structure. The liver builds triglycerides from the raw elements glucose and fatty acids. The liver builds individual glucose into a chain and the chain is called glycerol. Then, 3 fatty acids attach to the glycerol base.

Fatty Acid Metabolism

Triglycerides can be stored in the liver or sent to the rest of the body to be stored intramuscularly. When the body needs energy, it breaks apart the fatty acids from the glycerol base. The fatty acids and glucose then enter the mitochondria inside the muscles to produce energy. Excess free fatty acids enter the bloodstream and return to the liver where they are reattached to glycerol, creating another triglyceride before being stored.

Cholesterol Builds

Cholesterol helps build sex hormones. In females, these hormones are estrogen and progesterone and in males, testosterone. Cholesterol also helps produce the stress hormone cortisol in both men and women. Cholesterol builds the fat-soluble vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It also supports the production of bile, which is a substance used to help digest fats and absorb vitamins A, D, K and E.


According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, triglyceride levels may be just as important as cholesterol levels when determining overall health. It is a fact that high cholesterol levels lead to coronary heart disease. The role of triglycerides when discussing heart disease is disputed. Scientists agree, however, that high triglyceride levels are at least a warning sign for coronary heart disease. This is because individuals with high triglyceride levels have health characteristics such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes which lead to coronary heart disease.

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