Should You Worry About High Triglycerides
These blood fats can be one of the signs of metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
Until recently, triglycerides tended to get less attention when looking at cardiovascular risk compared to LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. There’s no question that extremely high levels spell trouble and can lead to acute pancreatitis. But what about treating lower levels of triglycerides? Recent evidence suggests you should work to reduce triglyceride levels of they are higher than normal, especially if you have heart disease or have other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure or smoking.
*All values in milligrams per deciliter
A Sign Of Metabolic Syndrome
People with metabolic syndrome are several times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. The risk of eventually developing diabetes is even greater.
A syndrome is, by definition, a group of signs and symptoms that occur together because of an underlying condition. For metabolic syndrome, that group includes abdominal obesity , high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol and, yes, levels.
So as doctors have started to take metabolic syndrome more seriously, they’ve also started to pay more attention to triglyceride levels as one of its telltale signs.
Triglycerides go it alone
HDL and triglycerides are metabolically connected and are often inversely related: As triglycerides go up, HDL goes down and vice versa. But that isn’t always so. People can have “isolated” high triglycerides without low HDL levels, and research is now showing that high triglycerides are an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, no matter what the HDL is.
Test For Elevated Triglycerides
Doctors check triglyceride levels with a lipid profile, which they may refer to as a cholesterol test. In addition to measuring triglycerides, the test measures levels of HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol.
The state that a person having the test may need to refrain from drinking and eating for 812 hours beforehand. They also recommend the following:
- Healthy adults should have this test every 46 years.
- People with diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol should get the test more often.
- Children should have the test at least once between the ages of 9 and 11 years.
- Young people should have another test between the ages of 17 and 21 years.
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How Are Triglycerides Measured
Your doctor may give you a common test called a lipid panel. It checks for different types of cholesterol, including the levels of the “good” kind and the “bad” kind. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone 21 and older get a lipid panel at least every 5 years.
The levels are checked after an overnight fast. Fat from a recent meal can muddy the picture.
These tests are important because you rarely have any symptoms when your triglycerides are high, unlike with many other conditions.
How It Is Done
The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:
- Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
- Clean the needle site with alcohol.
- Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
- Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
- Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
- Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
- Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.
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How Can I Control My Triglyceride Levels
Studies show that carbohydrates play an important role in controlling triglyceride level. Diets high in carbohydrates, especially sugar, can increase triglycerides.
Exercise can also lower triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol. Even if you dont lose weight, exercise can help control your triglyceride level.
The Mayo Clinic recommends changes in lifestyle habits to help treat high triglyceride levels. The changes include:
- not eating sugary or refined foods
- choosing healthier fats, such as fats in plant-based foods or fish
- reducing your alcohol consumption
- getting enough exercise, which is at least 30 minutes at moderate intensity on most days of the week
Treatments that focus on the primary cause for high triglycerides, such as the following, should be strongly considered:
How Often To Get Tested
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , most healthy adults should get their cholesterol checked every four to six years.
Your risk factors also determine how often your cholesterol should be checked. Adults who have a history of high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, or obesity need more frequent readings, as do all adults as they age.
Children should have their cholesterol checked at least once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between 17 and 20 years of age. If a child has a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or is overweight or obese, their pediatrician may recommend getting checked sooner and more often.
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How To Lower Triglycerides Naturally
Triglycerides can be lowered without drugs. For example, they can be lowered naturally through diet changes, decreasing consumption of alcohol or sugary beverages, by increasing physical activity, by losing weight, and other ways. As little as 5% to 10% reduction in body weight may lower triglycerides. The table below summarizes how much benefit different changes can effect.
What Are The Symptoms
High blood triglycerides usually do not cause any symptoms. Untreated or uncontrolled high blood triglyceride levels may increase your risk of serious complications such as coronary heart disease and stroke.
Very high blood triglycerides can raise the risk of acute pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas that causes severe pain in the abdomen.
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How Is It Used
Blood tests for triglycerides are usually part of a lipid profile that is used to help identify an individualâs risk of developing heart disease and to help make decisions about what treatment may be needed if there is borderline or high risk. As part of a lipid profile, it may be used to monitor people who have risk factors for heart disease, those who have had a heart attack, or those who are being treated for high lipid and/or high triglyceride levels.
Results of the cholesterol test and other components of the lipid profile are used along with other known risk factors of heart disease to develop a plan of treatment and follow-up. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, such as diet or exercise programs, or lipid-lowering drugs, such as statins.
Finding Out Your Triglycerides Levels
Triglycerides are measured with a simple blood test. Triglyceride levels should be measured when you have a cholesterol test as they can also contribute to your risk of developing heart disease, and other disease of the heart and blood vessels. The triglyceride test measures the triglycerides carried in chylomicrons and VLDL cholesterol. National guidelines in the UK no longer recommend a fasting blood test .
What should your triglyceride levels be?
HEART UK experts state that we should aim for a non-fasting triglyceride level below 2.3mmol/L.
If your doctor has asked you to fast for a test then your triglyceride level should be below 1.7mmol/L. This “fasting test” number is lower because only the triglycerides made by the liver and carried in the VLDL cholesterol will be measured not the triglycerides you get from food. As you have not eaten, there will be no chylomicrons present in your blood.
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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.
Limit Your Sugar Intake
Added sugar is a big part of many peoples diets.
While the American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 100150 calories of added sugar per day, one study found that the average American eats about 308 calories of added sugar daily .
Added sugar is commonly found in sweets, soft drinks, and fruit juice.
Extra sugar in your diet may be turned into triglycerides, which can lead to an increase in blood triglyceride levels, along with other heart disease risk factors.
A 2020 review that included data on 6,730 people found that those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages regularly were over 50% more likely to have high triglycerides, compared with those who did not drink them regularly .
Another study found that consuming high amounts of added sugar is also associated with higher blood triglyceride levels in children .
Fortunately, several studies have shown that low carb diets can lead to a decrease in blood triglyceride levels .
Even a simple change such as replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water could decrease triglycerides in some people .
Minimizing added sugar in your diet from sugary beverages and sweets can reduce your blood triglyceride levels.
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How Can I Lower My Triglycerides Quickly
Dietary and lifestyle changes may help you lower your triglycerides within a few months. The first step, though, involves finding out why your triglycerides are high. Hypertriglyceridemia has many causes. These include:
- Dietary factors.
- Medical conditions.
- Some medications.
If you just learned your triglycerides are high, the first thing you should do is talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider will ask you some questions and review your medical history to see what might be causing the spike in your triglyceride level.
Your provider will then help you come up with a plan for getting your triglycerides back to a healthy level. This plan may involve medication to lower your triglycerides, especially if your numbers are very high. Or, you may need treatment for an underlying condition.
Your provider will also help you with dietary and lifestyle changes. Its always best to follow the individual plan your provider gives you. But here are some general guidelines that research shows can help you lower your triglycerides.
Dietary changes to help lower your triglycerides
There are four main dietary culprits that raise your triglycerides:
Product labels or packaging will also tell you if an item is fat-free. Its important to reduce your fat intake. But be aware that desserts labeled fat-free usually contain more sugar than full-fat versions and just as many calories. Limit these desserts or find healthier options like fresh fruit or sugar-free popsicles.
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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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.
What Can Happen To Me If I Have High Triglycerides
High triglycerides can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
A high triglyceride level is one of the signs of metabolic syndrome. This is a collection of health conditions that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
An extremely high triglyceride level can cause inflammation of the pancreas, the organ in your abdomen that produces insulin.
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Cholesterol And Triglyceride Screening
Some health organizations recommend that everyone older than age 20 be checked for high cholesterol.
Some health organizations recommend that everyone age 20 and older be checked for high cholesterol.footnote 1 The Canadian Cardiovascular Society recommends cholesterol tests based on age and risk factors for heart disease. footnote 2
Talk to your doctor about when you should get a cholesterol test.
For more information, see When to Have a Cholesterol Test.
Follow A Lower Carb Diet
Much like added sugar, extra calories from carbs in your diet are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells.
Not surprisingly, low carb diets have been linked to lower blood triglyceride levels .
A review of 12 randomized controlled trials found that people following reduced carb diets typically saw a reduction in triglyceride levels at 6, 12, and 24 months. Across these studies, triglyceride levels decreased the most 6 months after starting a reduced calorie diet .
A 2020 review compared low fat and low carb diets. Researchers found that 612 months after starting their relative diets, those on the low carb diet had greater decreases in triglyceride levels than those on a low fat diet .
Following a low carb diet can lead to a significant reduction in blood triglyceride levels, at least in the short term, when compared with a low fat diet.
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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.
High Triglycerides: Getting Help
When it comes to cholesterol and triglycerides, perhaps the most important thing is to get regular screenings.
See your doctor and get checked out. If your triglycerides are high, you and your doctor can decide on a treatment plan — and you can make a few simple but effective changes to your lifestyle.
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Medications May Be Needed For High Triglyceride Levels
Sometimes, healthy eating and regular exercise cant lower high triglyceride levels. This may be the case, for example, if you have familial hypertriglyceridemia or if you already have heart disease. Your doctor may prescribe medication such as fibrates or nicotinic acids. Drugs to help lower high blood cholesterol may also be prescribed, if necessary.Suggestions for managing high triglyceride levels with medication include:
- Always take prescription medications exactly as instructed.
- See your doctor if you are having side effects from the medication. Known medication side effects may include indigestion, diarrhoea, fever or muscle problems.
- Dont assume that medications will somehow overcome the hazards of an unhealthy lifestyle. A healthy diet, regular exercise and maintaining an appropriate weight for your height are the most important management strategies for high triglycerides.
When Should You See A Doctor
Because high triglyceride levels usually do not cause any symptoms, theyre typically spotted when a doctor orders a blood test that includes a lipid panel.
If you do not have high risk factors, including health conditions and some lifestyle factors, a doctor will order a lipid panel every few years to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
If your lipid panel results show above normal triglyceride levels, a doctor may suggest lifestyle changes focused on diet and exercise. If diet and exercise do not have the desired effect, they may recommend medication such as statins or fibrates.
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