If you’ve been keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, there’s something else you might need to monitor: your triglycerides.
Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides. These triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Throughout the day, hormones release your triglycerides for energy between meals.
So what does this mean for you and your health? Here are 3 reasons why monitoring your triglycerides are important:
1. It’s an important measure of heart health
Having a high level of triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease. High triglyceride levels may contribute to hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls (atherosclerosis) — which increases the risk of a heart attack and heart disease.
A simple blood test can reveal whether your triglycerides fall into a healthy range. Your doctor will usually check for high triglycerides as part of a cholesterol test (sometimes called a lipid panel or lipid profile). In order to receive an accurate triglyceride measurement, fasting for nine to 12 hours is recommended.
The national guidelines for fasting triglyceride levels in healthy adults are:
- Normal: Under 150 mg/dl
- Borderline High: 151–200 mg/dl
- High: 201–499 mg/dl
- Very High: 500 mg/dl or higher
Levels higher than 200 mg/dl are associated with an increase in the risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Levels higher than 300mg/dl are associated with pancreatitis.
But what causes high triglyceride levels? First, it can be genetic. Having a genetic predisposition to diabetes mellitus (DM)–a chronic metabolic disorder in which the use of carbohydrate is impaired and that of lipid and protein is enhanced–can be related to higher triglycerides.
Additionally, your diet can affect your levels. Eating a diet high in carbohydrates can raise your level of triglycerides. The body turns carbohydrates into glucose to use for fuel, but will store excess glucose as fat. Even if you maintain a low-carb diet, some people are still very sensitive to carbohydrates. This heightened sensitivity may cause their triglyceride levels to higher than normal.
2. It’s different than cholesterol
Triglycerides and cholesterol are both fatty substances known as lipids. However, triglycerides are fats; cholesterol is not. Cholesterol is a waxy, odorless substance made by the liver that is an essential part of cell walls and nerves.
Cholesterol also plays an important role in body functions such as digestion and hormone production. In addition to being produced by the body, cholesterol comes
Pure cholesterol cannot mix with or dissolve in the blood. Therefore, the liver packages cholesterol with triglycerides and proteins in carriers called lipoproteins. The lipoproteins then move this fatty mixture to areas throughout the body, leading to an increased risk of heart disease.
3. High levels may increase your risk for other medical problems
High triglycerides are often a sign of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, including obesity and metabolic syndrome. All of these conditions include too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Sometimes high triglycerides are a sign of poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes, low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), liver or kidney disease, or rare genetic conditions that affect how your body converts fat to energy.
What’s the best way to lower triglycerides?
The American Heart Association recommends for those trying to lower their triglyceride level, to implement lifestyle changes such as diet, weight loss and physical activity. Although medication can help, triglycerides usually respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes.
Here are 8 easy tips to lower your triglyceride levels:
- Lose weight. If you’re overweight, losing 5 to 10 pounds can help lower your triglycerides. Motivate yourself by focusing on the benefits of losing weight, such as more energy and improved health.
- Cut back on calories. Remember that extra calories are converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. Reducing your calories will reduce triglycerides.
- Avoid sugary and refined foods. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and foods made with white flour, can increase triglycerides.
- Limit carbohydrates in your diet. Eating a diet high in carbohydrates can raise your level of triglycerides. The body turns carbohydrates into glucose to use for fuel, but will store excess glucose as fat.
- Choose healthier fats. Trade saturated fat found in meats for healthier monounsaturated fat found in plants, such as olive, peanut and canola oils. Substitute fish high in omega-3 fatty acids — such as mackerel and salmon — for red meat.
- Eliminate trans fat. Trans fat can be found in some fried foods and commercial baked products, such as cookies, crackers and snack cakes. But don’t rely on packages that label their foods as free of trans fat. In the United States, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat a serving, it can be labeled trans fat-free. Even though those amounts seem small, they can add up quickly if you eat a lot of foods containing small amounts of trans fat. Instead, read the ingredients list. You can tell that a food has trans fat in it if it contains partially hydrogenated oil.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and has a particularly potent effect on triglycerides. Even small amounts of alcohol can raise triglyceride levels.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week. Regular exercise can boost “good” cholesterol while lowering “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. Take a brisk daily walk, swim laps or join an exercise group. If you don’t have time to exercise for 30 minutes, try squeezing it in 10 minutes at a time. Take a short walk, climb the stairs at work, or try some situps or pushups as you watch television.
Now you know why triglycerides matter and some easy tips on how to lower your levels. If you have any further questions about triglycerides or would like to have your levels tested, please contact your doctor.
For more tips and health news, follow us on: