Triglycerides 101: The Basics and Effective Ways to Lower Levels

You’ve heard about the risks associated with high cholesterol but one thing that rarely gets discussed is the potential risks of having high triglycerides. After you eat a meal, any calories, sugar, and alcohol that your body doesn’t need immediately are converted into triglycerides and stored in your body’s fat cells. Later, when your body requires energy, hormones are released that prompt the release of these stored triglycerides. This natural process helps your body maintain a steady supply of energy between meals. However, high levels of triglycerides in the blood can increase the risk of serious health problems. In fact, studies show that high levels of triglycerides can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes, especially in people with low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol or type 2 diabetes. The good news: there are plenty of things you can do to lower your triglycerides and improve your health. It all starts with finding out if your triglycerides are high so you can then learn what you can do to start lowering them – and as you may have guessed, that’s exactly this article is all about. 

triglycerdies facts tips

What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a unique kind of waxy fat (lipids) that come from the food you eat. In fact, most of the fats you consume are in triglyceride form and they are the most common fat in the body. Triglycerides get made up from the foods you eat, especially from butter, oils, and other fats. The body also takes any extra calories, sugar or alcohol that doesn’t get used for immediate energy are turned into triglycerides and stored within your fat cells found throughout the body. They are then released into your bloodstream to be used as an energy source in between meals.

But like most things in your body, such as cholesterol and fat, maintaining proper triglyceride levels is imperative to your health. In the right amounts, triglycerides are good thing. But too much of it can increase your risk of heart disease, especially if you have high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.

 There are several risk factors for high triglycerides, including:

  • A diet high in sugar and simple carbs
  • Family history of high cholesterol
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Medications, such as hormones, diuretics, beta blockers and corticosteroids
  • Menopause
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid disease
  • Smoking
  • Poorly managed type 2 diabetes
  • Age

Unfortunately, similar to high cholesterol, having high triglycerides rarely produces any symptoms. The only way to know if you are at risk is to get bloodwork done to check your cholesterol numbers.

What is Considered a High Triglyceride Level?

Speaking with your healthcare professional will help you understand the results of your blood tests with regards to your triglyceride levels. However, they will essentially look at your triglycerides, HDL (“good” cholesterol) and LDL (“bad” cholesterol) numbers to determine how much of each is in your blood. A healthy number for triglycerides is below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Here is a look at how triglyceride levels are classified:

  • Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • High: 200 to 499 mg/dL
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL or greater

The Potential Risks of High Triglyceride Levels

The risks associated with having high triglycerides can be quite severe, which is why it’s important to book those blood tests. If left untreated or uncontrolled, having high levels of triglycerides in your bloodstream can lead to some serious health complications. For example, high triglyceride levels can elevate your risk of arteriosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls. This significantly increases your risk of experiencing severe complications such as heart disease and stroke.

Having exceptionally high levels of triglycerides in your blood are commonly associated with liver and pancreas problems. It also increases your risk of developing liver disease and acute pancreatitis.

Elevated levels of triglycerides tend to appear alongside other health conditions as well, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Although, it’s still unknown as to whether or not high triglycerides are responsible for causing these issues.

Ways to Lower Triglyceride Levels

After reading the potential risks associated with high triglyceride levels, you’re likely feeling a bit overwhelmed and maybe even downright scared. While it’s important to never underestimate the severity of having high amounts of triglycerides, there are many ways you can effectively lower them to improve your health and reduce, and even eliminate those risks.

Take Medication/Supplements That Lower Triglycerides

Medication is one way you can start treating high triglyceride levels and if you have heart disease, this may be a necessary course of action for you. The different types of medications that are commonly prescribed for controlling high triglycerides are: 

It’s important to note that, while these medications can help reduce triglyceride levels, adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet are also necessary.

Change Medications That Can Increase Triglycerides

There are several types of medications, such as beta-blockers, birth control pills and diuretics, that can cause high triglycerides as a side effect. It’s highly recommended to speak with your doctor about any medications you’re on to ensure they aren’t contributing to the problem and to make changes as needed. This should only be done at the advice of a healthcare professional. You should never discontinue or change your medications without first talking to your doctor.

Eat Healthier Fats

Making smarter choices with regards to the types of fats you eat can make a significant improvement on your triglyceride levels. Aim to limit your intake of unhealthy fats, such as meat, butter, and cheese and steer clear of trans fats that are commonly found in processed foods and margarine.

As an alternative, enjoy healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can be found in olive oil, nuts, and some fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines. In fact, several studies have found these fish varieties to be particularly beneficial for reducing triglyceride levels.

Embark on a Weight Loss Journey

Shedding a few extra pounds can help reduce high triglyceride levels. This can be done with exercise and by focusing on lowering your overall calorie intake to create a caloric deficiency. Aim to consume more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products and cut back on sugary foods, such as sodas, can significantly improve your triglyceride levels. Highly processed and packaged foods should also take a backseat in your diet.

Exercise Daily

Physical activity can play a significant role in regulating triglyceride levels. Health experts recommend that you engage in at least 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, to maintain good health. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to sign up for an intense Zumba class or boot camp. Any activity that increases your heart rate is a good start, such as a brisk walk around the block or swimming lanes at your local community center. Over time, you can increase the intensity – and benefits of your workouts.

Reduce or Eliminate Your Alcohol Consumption

Limiting your alcohol consumption can help in managing high triglyceride levels. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause significant spikes in triglyceride levels. So, it’s important to limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day or eliminate it altogether.

Managing your triglyceride levels is an important part of maintaining your overall health and well-being. But it doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. By making small changes to your lifestyle, like choosing healthier foods and being more active, you can make a big difference in your triglyceride levels and reduce your risk of developing serious health problems. And don’t forget to work with your healthcare provider to create a personalized treatment plan that works best for you. With a little effort and the right support, you can keep your triglycerides in check and live a happy, healthy life.

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