Why Your Triglyceride Levels Matter For Heart Health

Why Your Triglyceride Levels Matter For Heart Health

 

When you get your cholesterol checked there are usually four numbers being measured: total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. All four of these numbers matter in helping you and your doctor evaluate your risk factors for heart disease. You may already be familiar with the health dangers of high cholesterol, but what about triglycerides? What do they mean for your health? 

What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are the main type of fat in your body. The fat that is stored on your hips, thighs, and abdomen is all in the form of triglycerides. 

Triglycerides come from two main sources, food and your liver. When you eat too many calories, especially calories from carbohydrates, your liver makes triglycerides. This allows the body to store the extra calories for later in the form of fat. During periods without food, your body is able to tap into those stores for energy. But, many of us eat way more calories than we need, therefore we end up with a lot of extra fat or triglycerides. 

Although they are frequently lumped together, triglycerides are not the same as cholesterol. Cholesterol is a hormone-like substance, not a fat. High levels of both triglycerides and cholesterol increase your risk for heart disease. 

When you doctor tests your blood for triglycerides, here are the numbers they are looking for:1

  • Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL
  • High: 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL

If your numbers are above normal discuss the best treatment plan with your doctor.

        Health Risks of High Triglycerides

        Extremely high triglycerides over 1000 mg/dL can increase your risk of pancreatitis or inflammation in the pancreas. This is a serious condition that causes severe pain and requires hospitalization. But, lower levels of triglycerides that are still too high can be problematic for your health as well. 

        High triglycerides may be an indication of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that increase the risk factors for heart disease. In addition to high triglycerides, metabolic syndrome includes a family history of heart disease, elevated blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, and abdominal obesity. Frequently, high triglycerides are seen in combination with these other symptoms all of which increase the risk for heart disease.2 

            How Can Triglyceride Levels be Lowered?

            If your triglycerides are high there is a lot you can do to lower them through lifestyle changes. A few things that can improve your numbers include:

            • Exercise regularly. Aim for 30-45 minutes 3-4 times a week. 
            • Eat fewer refined carbohydrates and less sugar. Refined carbohydrates like chips, cookies, and crackers are easy to overeat. Sugar from beverages or desserts are readily stored as triglycerides. Focus instead on eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
            • Eat more fiber. Fiber traps fat in the digestive system, preventing it from being absorbed into the blood. Aim for 25-30 grams a day.
            • Swap you fats. Choose foods high in omega-3 or monounsaturated fats instead of saturated fats that can raise triglycerides. 
            • Reduce alcohol. Cut back on alcohol and consider eliminating it completely if your triglycerides are high.
            • Manage your weight. Being overweight can increase triglycerides. Reducing your weight by even 5-10% can have a significant impact on your numbers.

            With a few simple lifestyle changes triglycerides are simple to manage. Speak to your doctor about the best plan for you.

             

             

            References:

            1. The Truth About Triglycerides - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center. 
            2. Metabolic syndrome - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic.

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