Difference between Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Updated on March 8, 2017

Were you paying attention in anatomy class? Even if the answer is no, you still know that cholesterol is something you need to watch out for. The two are health indicators your doctor can tell you more about when test results come in. But it could not hurt to know a bit about them yourself, right?



Cholesterol is a lipid that travels through the bloodstream. The main function of cholesterol is that of maintaining membrane fluidity and integrity. It also helps in the production of steroid hormones and bile acid, and it helps produce Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

There are two types of cholesterol: HDL – high-density lipoprotein (the good kind) and LDL – low-density lipoprotein (the bad kind). A person has a health risk if his LDL cholesterol levels are high and his HDL cholesterol levels are low. This happens because LDL molecules tend to stick to the walls of blood vessels. As the LDL layer thickens, the blood stream is reduced. This leads to atherosclerosis and increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. HDL, on the other hand, is considered good cholesterol because it removes excess cholesterol from the walls of the blood vessels.

Elevated cholesterol is caused by a poor diet, stress, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and age. Treatment usually includes specific drugs and a compulsory change in lifestyle. A normal level of cholesterol in the blood is 200 mg/dl.

Triglycerides are lipids that travel through the bloodstream. Each one is an ester made up of glycerol and three fatty acids. The process takes place in the liver. This organ builds glucose into an individual chain, glycerol, to which three fatty acids are attached. Triglycerides are stored in the liver, not just produced there. When the body needs energy, the glycerol chain breaks away from the three fatty acids. The glycerol is used for energy, while the fatty acids return to the liver through the bloodstream, and they attach themselves to another glycerol chain.

Triglycerides are produced with the fat from food, from excess carbohydrates, and fat. Usually, a high level of triglycerides indicates poor health and an increased likelihood of heart diseases. A blood test will show the level of triglycerides. A normal level of triglycerides in the blood is less than 150 mg/dl.

Cholesterol vs Triglycerides

So what is the difference between cholesterol and triglycerides?

Although they are both lipids, their structures and functions are different. Cholesterol is a fatty steroid and triglycerides are a glycerol chain with three fatty acids. Cholesterol helps maintain cell membrane integrity and helps in the production of certain hormones, of bile acid, and vitamin C. On the other hand, triglycerides produce energy for the body.

There are two types of cholesterol and only one type of triglycerides. Elevated levels of the “bad cholesterol” and triglycerides are indications of poor health and a possible risk of heart disease.

Comparison Chart

Is a fatty steroidAre chains of glycerol with three fatty acids attached
Helps the production of certain hormones, bile acid, and vitamin CProduce energy for the body
Excess “bad cholesterol” lines the arteries and strangulates the blood flowExcess triglycerides are an indication of a risk of heart disease
Normal levels are at less than 200 mg/dlNormal levels are at less than 150 mg/dl