Why Do You Have High Triglycerides
However, one big problem arises if we live in westernized societies there is an over abundance of food at all time. If you are reading this right now, you probably live in an area where many different varieties of food are always available. In this kind of food environment, our emotional and instinctual desires override all logical sense, so most of us eat more calories and carbohydrates than we need.
In response to this influx in calories, the cells become stuffed with so much energy that they reject the signal to take more energy in that they receive from insulin . This is otherwise known as insulin resistance, and this causes a cascade of hormonal changes that increase blood sugar and triglyceride levels.
On top of that, carbohydrate consumption stimulates hepatic lipogenesis independent of insulin signaling.
What all of this means is that eating excess calories increases your chances of having high triglycerides levels and eating excess carbohydrates increases triglyceride levels, especially if those carbohydrates are coming from fructose and other processed sugars.
Hold on. What about the fat?
We are talking about triglycerides a type of fat. How could I talk about calories and carbohydrates and neglect to mention fat as a contributor to high triglyceride levels as well? Well, there is a good reason for that.
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How Are High Triglycerides Diagnosed
High blood triglycerides are diagnosed with a routine blood test called a lipid panel. A lipid panel measures total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in the blood.
Triglyceride level ranges are:
- Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
- A little bit high: 150 to 499 mg/dL
- Very high: 500 mg/dL or greater
- Moderately high: 500 to 886 mg/dL
- Very high: Greater than 886 mg/dL
How Do Triglycerides Get Into The Blood
When we eat foods containing triglycerides, such as meat, dairy products, cooking oils and fats, they are absorbed by our intestines and packaged into parcels of fats and protein called chylomicrons . These carry the triglycerides in the blood stream to our tissues to be used for energy straight away, or stored for later.
The body also makes its own supply of triglycerides in the liver. This form is carried in a different type of lipoprotein known as VLDL cholesterol.
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Cut Back On Sugar And Refined Carbs
Different carbohydrate-loaded foods also contain very different nutritional levels.
Dr. Nissen recommends scaling back or eliminating:
Dr. Nissen advises that increasing your fiber intake may lower triglyceride levels. If you have high triglyceride levels, theres a good chance you dont ingest close to the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, he says.
What Are Triglycerides And Why Are They Important
“Triglycerides are a type of blood lipid and they’re made up of free fatty acids. They’re stored in your body fat, but you’ll also find them in your blood,” says nutritionist Jessica Ash, CNC, HHC, FDN-P and founder of Jessica Ash Wellness. “And because your liver makes them, they’re also found in your liver and then your tissues. Our body gets triglycerides either from the food that you eat or from the body it manufactures triglycerides in the liver.”
“It’s important to know that triglycerides, like cholesterol, are normally protective . But triglycerides are used for energy, whereas cholesterol is used for steroid hormone production,” Ash explains. “And our muscles are specifically what like to uptake fatty acids or triglycerides. So they’re fatty acids that the body usually uses for energy.”
Your body needs energy from food to function. But excess energy, especially from sources like simple carbohydrates, can be stored as triglycerides, which can create issues if your triglyceride levels are elevated above the normal range. According to the Mayo Clinic, if your triglycerides are over 150 mg/dL, then you’re at a greater risk for developing heart disease.
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Some People May Respond Best To A Low
For those with severely elevated triglycerides , there is a case for low-fat diets being equally good if not better than low carb in some situations.
One study finds that those with triglycerides below 400 mg/dL respond best to low-carb diets, but those with triglycerides greater than 400 mg/dL respond best to low-fat diets.24
However, case reports document a decrease in severely elevated triglycerides with low-carb, high-fat diets.25
Its important to understand the cause of elevated triglycerides, as that may impact the proposed dietary treatment. If someone has a genetic cause, such as familial chylomicronemia or lipoprotein lipase deficiency, a low-fat diet may be more effective.26
Aside from these extreme examples, there is no evidence to support a low-fat diet as being better than a low-carb diet for reducing elevated triglycerides.
Eat Less To Lose Weight
High triglycerides come from regularly eating more calories than your body burns, so eating less overall is one of the best ways to start reining them in.
How much less, exactly? You may want to cut back by 500 to 1,000 calories a day, depending on how many calories youre consuming. Thats enough to help you lose weight, which is key.
Dropping 5 to 10 percent of your body weight is enough to reduce your triglycerides significantly. But definitely get the OK from your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.
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Taking Medications To Lower Triglycerides
However, most medications and even supplements can come with significant side effects. Always ask your doctor before starting any new supplements or medications.
In addition to supplements, several studies show certain medications may reduce triglycerides. Recommendations to take medications focus on reducing the risk of pancreatitis as well as heart disease.
The evidence to support the idea that lowering triglycerides with medications can provide cardiac protection is mixed. Many isolated studies show no benefits, but a meta-analysis of multiple studies suggests minor benefits.42
Ask your doctor if any of these medications may be right for you:
Statins The most commonly prescribed class of cholesterol-lowering drugs has a mild triglyceride-lowering effect ranging from 10% reduction at low doses to 30% at higher doses.43
Fibrates Drugs such as gemfibrozil can lower triglycerides by 30-50%.44 These drugs should be used with caution when taken along with statins or warfarin due to drug interactions. Those with a history of gallstone disease should not take fibrates.
Although fibrates do lower triglycerides, it is not clear that they reduce cardiac events or the risk of death.
Prescription niacin Niacin can reduce triglycerides by up to 30%.45 Niacin may cause liver disease, and may worsen insulin resistance or blood sugar control in those with type 2 diabetes. Those with peptic ulcer disease should not take niacin.
Pancreatitis Is A Unique Risk Of High Triglyceride Levels
You may not have heard of it before, but pancreatitis is the name for extreme inflammation of the pancreas, which is one of your vital organs. Pancreatitis is a serious disease with a high rate of hospitalization and sometimes even life-threatening complications.
When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the symptoms typically include nausea, vomiting, and severe upper abdominal pain. The two main causes are gallstones and heavy alcohol use though, many times, the exact cause cannot be identified. High triglyceride levels can be a trigger in up to 7% of acute episodes of pancreatitis. Other causes include:
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Mismanaged Type 2 Diabetes
One of the most common chronic illnesses in the United States is type 2 diabetes. The CDC estimates that 37.3 million Americans have it, and as many as 96 million are pre-diabetic. Studies have shown that high triglyceride levels have links to poor blood glucose control. If you have diabetes and donât correctly manage it, you may find your triglyceride levels climbing, potentially worsening your diabetes. So, controlling your triglyceride levels may help you handle type 2 diabetes.
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How To Quickly Lower Your Triglycerides
You might be wondering what are triglycerides and how do I know if mine are too high?Triglycerides are a type of fat found in our blood that our bodies use for energy. Having a healthy number of triglycerides can be very beneficial in maintaining good health however, when your triglyceride levels get too high, your health may be at risk.
What kind of risk are we talking about?Your triglycerides are measured through simple blood testing. A count of 150 and lower has been commonly referred to as a normal level amount. If you fall in between 200 and 500, your levels are commonly referred to as high or very high. Its at this level that your body becomes more vulnerable to increased risk of metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Regularly consuming more calories than you burn, consuming a lot of alcohol, and poorly-managed diabetes are a few of the causes of high triglyceride levels.
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What Foods Can Help Lower Triglycerides
Now that you know which foods to avoid, what foods can you add into your diet that can help support healthy triglyceride levels? “Foods to emphasize are high fiber vegetables with lower sugar content, such as cruciferous vegetables,” Archibald says. “Including legumes, canned or cooked from their dried versions, will add both fiber and satiety to the plate.”
Adding healthy omega-3 fats can be helpful as well. “Among fats, seek out foods rich in omega-3 fats, which not only act as natural anti-inflammatories in the body but can also prevent the production of triglycerides and cholesterol in the liver,” says Archibald.
Here are 20 foods that can lower triglycerides.
Ask Your Doctor About Medication
But diet and exercise aren’t always enough to lower high triglycerides, the Cleveland Clinic says. If your triglyceride levels still won’t budge, you may need medication. The medication often chosen to treat high triglycerides is prescription statin therapy, the Cleveland Clinic says.
Other medications your doctor may order include prescription omega-3 fatty acid supplements â namely ones that include 2,000 and 4,000 milligrams of omega-3s called DHA + EPA, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Cleveland Clinic recommends that you talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of medication to lower triglyceride levels if you think you may need it, as well as any dietary and exercise changes you make.
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Weight Loss And Triglyceride Levels
Weight loss is an important tool to get to a healthy triglyceride level. Because triglycerides are essentially fat stores, reducing the total amount of fat in the body will result in a lower triglyceride level in blood tests.
Even modest weight loss of 5% to 10% of total body weight helps to lower your triglyceride level. This means that going from a body weight of 300 lb to between 270 lb and 285 lb makes a big difference and lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, and pancreatitis.
Increased Risk Of Heart Disease
Medical science consistently demonstrates that people with higher triglycerides have a higher risk of heart disease. That is not surprising since high triglycerides are also correlated with other cardiac risk factors such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and more atherogenic small LDL particles.49
Observational studies demonstrate the risk of a heart attack triples for those with triglycerides above 265 mg/dL compared to those with lower levels.50
Another study reports an increased risk for statin-treated patients when their triglycerides were above 175 mg/dL .51
Studies comparing the impact of elevated triglycerides on cardiovascular risk suggest it may be equally or more important than high LDL cholesterol.
One study shows genetic mutations that lower triglycerides have an equal benefit for reducing heart disease risk as those that lower LDL.52
Other studies report elevated triglycerides and triglyceride-to-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol ratio are associated with smaller LDL particles and a more advanced coronary disease, whereas elevated LDL cholesterol show no significant correlation.53
Most recently, an evaluation of the PREDIMED trial demonstrates that triglycerides above 150 mg/dL and remnant cholesterol ) have greater predictive power for heart disease risk than does LDL.54
In fact, many trials show no improvement in the risk of heart disease or death.
Could triglyceride-lowering lifestyles have a greater impact than medications?
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Lowering Triglycerides Without Medication
Unless your triglycerides are extremely high, lifestyle changes are the best place to start. These simple steps can significantly lower triglyceride levels.
- Beware of bad fats. Cutting back on saturated fat and trans fats can lower triglycerides.
- Go for good carbs. Easily digested carbohydrates give triglycerides a definite boost. Eating whole grains and cutting back on soda can help control triglycerides.
- Check your alcohol use. In some people, alcohol dramatically boosts triglycerides. The only way to know if this is true for you is to avoid alcohol for a few weeks and have your triglycerides tested again.
- Go fish. Omega-3 fats in salmon, tuna, sardines, and other fatty fish can lower triglycerides. Having fish twice a week is fine.
- Aim for a healthy weight. If you are overweight, losing just 5% to 10% of your weight can help drive down triglycerides.
- Get moving. Exercise lowers triglycerides and boosts heart-healthy HDL cholesterol.
- Stop smoking. It isnt good for triglyceride levels or for anything else.
About the Author
Gregory Curfman, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Former Editor-in-Chief, Harvard Health Publishing
Eat Fatty Fish Twice Weekly
Fatty fish is well known for its benefits on heart health and ability to lower blood triglycerides.
This is mostly due to its content of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that is considered essential, meaning you need to get it through your diet.
Both the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and American Heart Association recommend eating two servings of fatty fish per week to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke .
Whats more, one study showed that eating salmon twice a week significantly decreased blood triglyceride concentration .
Salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, and mackerel are a few types of fish that are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Eating two servings per week may lower triglyceride levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
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What Are High Triglycerides
Triglycerides are a type of fat-like substance in the blood that the body uses for energy. Some triglycerides are needed but too much of them can put people at higher risk for heart attack, stroke, inflammation of the pancreas, and other health problems.
What Are Symptoms of High Triglycerides?
High triglycerides also can run in families.
Do High Triglyceride Levels Affect Hdl And Cholesterol Levels
Triglycerides are involved in the transport of fatty acids to muscles and tissues for energy.
- HDL particles are involved in the transport of excess fatty acids from the periphery back to the liver for elimination. Because of these competing roles, it is very difficult to increase HDL, the healthy good cholesterol, without first addressing triglycerides.
- HDL not only transports excess lipid to the liver for disposal, but it also transports cholesterol to organs such as the adrenals, ovaries, and testes for steroid hormone synthesis.
- Many of the strategies discussed here that lower triglycerides are also known to raise HDL.
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Ask Your Doctor About Natural Supplements
Several natural supplements could have the potential to lower blood triglycerides. Always speak with your doctor before starting any supplements, as they can interact with other medications.
Note especially that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements in the same way as it regulates pharmaceuticals, and supplement quality can vary widely.
Below are a few of the main supplements that have been studied:
- Fish oil. Well known for its potent effects on heart health, fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease triglycerides and several other risk factors for heart disease (
Several supplements have been studied for their ability to lower triglyceride levels, including fish oil, fenugreek, garlic extract, guggul, and curcumin.
What Can You Do To Lower High Triglyceride Levels
Because your body can get triglycerides from the food you eat, it makes sense that changing your diet can help if you’re concerned with your triglyceride levels. In general, according to Ash, it’s important to reduce your intake of refined flour, processed and packaged foods that contain trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and excess carbs and sugars that are bad news for your health.
One key nutrient to keep in mind is fat. According to Ash, switching out the types of fat you eat can make a huge difference. “Trans fats and polyunsaturated fats, like the fat in canola oil, are going to be the biggest offenders because they burden the liver, which is going to manufacture more triglycerides in order to make more LDL. So what we’re eating and how we’re supporting the liver is really what’s going to matter when it comes to triglycerides,” she says.
That said, fat is only one factor to consider when it comes to food. “Specific to food, fat itself is often not the culprit,” says registered dietitian Amanda Archibald, founder of The Genomic Kitchen. “Excess calories from alcohol or starchy/sugary foods are often more complicit in producing high triglycerides.”
If your doctor has told you your triglyceride levels are on the high side, it’s worth asking them what foods to avoid and what lifestyle changes could help. Chances are, you’ll want to exercise more and go easy on trans fats and simple carbs.
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