It's American Heart Month and I've got a few brand-new resources to share with you!
Let's kick things off with this triglyceride factsheet...
What are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that can be found in your blood. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), "Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body." Your body creates triglycerides when you eat more calories than you need to use at that time. This makes your fat cells store the triglycerides until you need energy between meals, at which point certain hormones release the triglycerides into your bloodstream.
Problems arise when you routinely eat more calories than you use.
The Mayo Clinic asserts "If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, particularly 'easy' calories like carbohydrates and fats, you may have high triglycerides."
The AHA expands on this point, maintaining, "Elevated triglycerides can be caused by overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (more than 60 percent of total calories). Underlying diseases or genetic disorders are sometimes the cause of high triglycerides. "
Having high triglycerides is also called hypertriglyceridemia.
How Can I Tell Whether I Have High Triglycerides?
All you need to test your triglyceride levels is a regular old blood test.
Your doctor will measure how many milligrams (mg) are in a deciliter (dL) of your blood. Your healthcare team will usually test your triglyceride levels at the same time as they do a cholesterol test (a.k.a. a lipid panel) and unfortunately that usually means that you have to fast for 8-12 hours before they can draw your blood.
Once you have the results back, your doctor will tell you whether your triglyceride levels are within a normal range. Here's what you need to know...
- Less than 150 mg/DL: Normal
- 150-199 mg/dL: Borderline High
- 200-499 mg/dL: High
- 500 mg/dL or more: Very High
What is the Impact of High Triglycerides on Health?
High triglycerides have been linked to a bunch of different heart and health problems.
For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, "high triglycerides may contribute to hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls (atherosclerosis) — which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease."
Furthermore, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that high triglycerides "may raise the risk of coronary artery disease, especially in women."
The role of high triglycerides in heart disease is being studied more and more often as the connection between the two solidifies. One such study, The Role of Triglycerides in Atherosclerosis by Beatriz G. Talayero, MD and Frank M. Sacks, MD, asserts, "Hypertriglyceridemia is a prevalent risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and increasingly important in the setting of current obesity and insulin resistance epidemics. [...] Patients who have hypertriglyceridemia may be at significant risk for CVD even if low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels are at goal."
In other words, high triglyceride levels have been linked to heart disease, and may pose health risks even if your cholesterol levels are normal.
How Can I Lower My Triglyceride Levels?
And now we get to the most important part: how you can protect your health.
There are many ways that you can reduce your risk of high triglycerides or lower your levels if you're starting to develop hypertriglyceridemia. Here are a few of the most highly-recommended...
- Manage Your Weight. Losing weight if you are overweight can have a great impact on your triglyceride levels. Plus, some of the strategies that you can use to get to a lower weight have also been linked to reducing triglyceride levels. For example...
- Consume Fewer Calories. Remember that your body stores excess calories as triglycerides. If you eat fewer extra calories, then you will create fewer triglycerides.
- Reduce the Number of Refined Foods You Eat. This common diet strategy has an especially great impact on triglyceride levels. "Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and foods made with white flour, can increase triglycerides" (source).
- Exercise. The Mayo Clinic explains, "Regular exercise can lower triglycerides and boost 'good' cholesterol." For a closer look at the benefits of exercise and strategies for creating a sustainable exercise routine, drop by the members-only post Beyond Weight Loss: The Impact of Exercise.
- Limit Your Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol has been linked to increased triglyceride levels, and even small amounts can prompt raised triglycerides.
- Replace Saturated Fats with Unsaturated Fats. You may have heard these words of wisdom when it comes to general heart health before, and they'll stand you in good stead when it comes to triglycerides as well.
- If You Smoke, Quit.
If these lifestyle changes aren't enough or your levels are extremely high, your doctor may also recommend medications like statins or fibrates.
For More Information:
- Good vs. Bad Cholesterol from the American Heart Association
- The Role of Triglycerides in Atherosclerosis by Beatriz G. Talayero, MD and Frank M. Sacks, MD
- Triglycerides from the U.S. National Library of Medicine
- Triglyceride level from the U.S. National Library of Medicine
- Triglycerides: Why do they matter? from the Mayo Clinic
- What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides? from the American Heart Association
And don't miss these fantastic materials for American Heart Month!
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Did you miss the printable infographic link? Here's another one, just for you!
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.