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How Much Do You Know About Triglycerides?
Your doctor may become concerned if your cholesterol level is too high. Another type of fatty substance found in the blood, known as triglycerides, may also need to be monitored in the effort to prevent heart disease. That is because research has identified high triglyceride levels as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, even when cholesterol levels are normal.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a form of fat present in food, human body fat, and blood. Blood triglyceride levels are affected by dietary fat and are manufactured in the body from other energy sources, such as carbohydrates. Triglycerides are also stored as body fat.
An elevation of blood triglycerides is referred to as hypertriglyceridemia. The blood test to measure triglyceride levels is easy and can be done along with a routine blood test that also measures various types of cholesterol. The most accurate results are obtained when a person fasts before this test. Triglyceride levels can be quite variable, so several measurements may be needed to provide accurate baseline values.
How High Is Too High?
An elevated triglyceride level can be an independent medical problem or can be due to another existing medical problem. For instance, people with poorly controlled type 1 or type 2 diabetes often have elevated triglyceride levels. Elevated triglycerides can also be brought on by thyroid disorders, kidney problems, obesity, excess alcohol, and taking certain medications.
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) classifies the ranges of fasting triglyceride levels in the following way:
- Normal—less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) (1.7 mmol/L)
- Borderline high—150-199 mg/dL (1.7-2.2 mmol/L)
- High—200-499 mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L)
- Very high—more than or equal to 500 mg/dL (5.7 mmol/L)
Studies have found that high triglycerides levels may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. However, there are steps that you can take to lower your levels.
Ways to Tame Triglycerides
Here are some tips from the experts:
- Increase physical activity —Aerobic exercise can help with weight loss and can decrease triglyceride levels at the same time. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. First get approval from your doctor.
- Maintain a healthy weight—Studies have shown losing weight and maintaining an ideal weight to be associated with decreased levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.
- Eat fruits, veggies, and low-fat dairy products—Include these choices as part of your healthy diet.
- Choose fats wisely —Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats. Pick food that contains unsaturated fat. Examples include certain oils (like olive, corn, or canola), nuts, seeds, avocados, and food with omega-3 fatty acids (like fish or flaxseed).
- Eat more fish —Omega-3 fatty acids are found in all types of fish, but are more abundant in fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, and herring. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include tofu, soybeans, flaxseed, canola oil, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
- Moderate or eliminate alcohol —According to the American Heart Association (AHA), small amounts of alcohol can increase triglyceride levels. Moderation is 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less per day for women. Talk to your doctor about alcohol consumption. You may need to stop drinking completely.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Dietitians of Canada
ATP III guidelines at-a-glance quick desk reference. National Cholesterol Education Program website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/atglance.pdf. May 4, 2016.
Austin MA, McKnight B, Edwards KL, et al. Cardiovascular disease mortality in familial forms of hypertriglyceridemia: a 20-year prospective study. Circulation. 2000;101(24):2777-2782.
High blood cholesterol: what you need to know. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/heart-cholesterol-hbc-what-html. Updated June 2005. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Hypertriglyceridemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 16, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Physical activity for everyone: how much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm. Updated June 4, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Triglycerides: frequently asked questions. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://my.americanheart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm%5F425988.pdf. Updated April 15, 2011. Accessed May 4, 2016.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 05/2016
- Update Date: 05/04/2016