Triglycerides: Why are They Important?
by len king on Apr 20, 2023
If you've been monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, you may also need to monitor another indicator: triglycerides.
High levels of triglycerides in the blood may increase the risk of heart disease. However, lifestyle choices that promote overall health can also help lower triglycerides.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in the blood.
When you eat, your body converts any unwanted calories into triglycerides. Triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, the hormone releases triglycerides between meals to provide energy.
If you often consume more calories than you burn, especially from high-carbohydrate foods, you may have high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia).
What is considered normal?
A simple blood test can check if your triglycerides are in a healthy range:
Normal - less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or less than 1.7 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)
High - 150 to 199 mg/dL (1.8 to 2.2 mmol/L)
High - 200 to 499 mg/dL (2.3 to 5.6 mmol/L)
Very high - 500 mg/dL or more (5.7 mmol/L or more)
Your doctor will usually check triglycerides as part of a cholesterol test, sometimes called a lipid test or lipid analysis. You must fast before your blood can be drawn to accurately measure triglycerides.
What is the difference between triglycerides and cholesterol?
Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids that circulate in the blood:
Triglycerides store unused calories and provide energy for the body.
Cholesterol is used to form cells and certain hormones.
Why are high triglycerides important?
High triglycerides may lead to hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls (atherosclerosis), which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease. Very high triglycerides may also cause acute inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
High triglycerides are often a sign of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, including obesity and metabolic syndrome, a group of medical conditions that include excess waist fat, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
High triglyceride classes may also be a sign of
Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
Metabolic syndrome, a condition in which high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar occur together, can increase your risk of heart disease
Low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism)
Certain rare genetic disorders that affect how your body converts fat into energy
Sometimes, high triglycerides are a side effect of taking certain medications, such as
estrogen and progestin
Some HIV drugs
What is the best way to lower triglycerides?
Healthy lifestyle choices are key to:
Exercise regularly. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week or every day. Regular exercise can lower triglycerides and increase "good" cholesterol. Try to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine, for example, climbing the stairs at work or taking a walk during breaks.
Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates. Single carbohydrates, such as sugar and foods made with white flour or fructose, can increase triglycerides.
Lose weight. If you have mild to moderate hypertriglyceridemia, you should be careful to reduce your caloric intake. Excess calories are converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. Reducing calories will lower triglycerides.
Choose healthier fats. Swap saturated fats in meat for healthier vegetable fats, such as olive and canola oils. Try swapping red meat for fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as mackerel or salmon. Avoid trans fats or foods that contain hydrogenated oils or fats.
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and has a particularly strong effect on triglycerides. If you have severe hypertriglyceridemia, you should avoid alcohol.
What about medication?
If healthy lifestyle changes are not enough to control high triglycerides, your doctor may recommend
Statin drugs. These cholesterol-lowering medications may be recommended back if you have a low cholesterol index or a history of clogged arteries or diabetes. Examples of statins include atorvastatin calcium (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor).
Betablockers. Betablockers, such as fenofibrate (TriCor, Fenoglide and others) and gemfibrozil (Lopid), can lower triglyceride levels. Do not use betablockers if you have severe kidney or liver disease.
Fish oil. Also known as omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil helps lower triglycerides. Prescription fish oil preparations (such as Lovaza) contain more active fatty acids than many over-the-counter supplements. Ingesting high levels of fish oil may interfere with blood clotting, so consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Niacin. Niacin can lower your triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). Tell your doctor before taking over-the-counter niacin, as the drug may interact with other medications and cause significant side effects.
If your doctor prescribes triglyceride-lowering medication, take it as prescribed. Remember the significance of making healthy lifestyle changes. Medications can help, but lifestyle is also important.
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