High Triglycerides: What You Need to Know
Do you have high triglyceride levels? If you do, you're hardly alone. Overall, more than a third of adults in the U.S. have high triglyceride levels, a type of fat in the blood.
Although it's a common problem, many of us don't know the first thing about high triglycerides. Studies have consistently linked high triglycerides levels with heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, especially in people with low levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and in those with type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that there's a lot you can do on your own to lower triglycerides and improve health.
First, find out if your triglycerides are high. Then, find out what to do about it.
Know Your Triglyceride Numbers
Here are the levels, based on a fasting blood test.
- Normal: Less than 150mg/dL
- Borderline: 150 to 199 mg/dL
- High: 200 to 499 mg/dL
- Very High: 500 mg/dL or above
Anyone over age 20 needs to get regular tests to track their cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to the American Heart Association.
Why Are High Triglycerides Bad?
Very high levels of triglycerides are associated with liver and pancreas problems.
But studies show conflicting results on the role of high triglycerides and the risk of heart disease. Not all experts agree that triglycerides play a significant role in heart problems.
High triglycerides tend to show up along with other problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, and low levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. So it’s hard to know for sure which problems are caused by high triglycerides alone.
For instance, some people have a genetic condition that seems to cause high triglyceride levels. But they don’t have an increased risk of heart disease. Still, there is some evidence that high triglycerides, on their own, increase the risk of disease. Other studies show that high triglycerides may only play a minor role when other heart disease risks are taken into account.
With ongoing studies, scientists hope to find out whether drugs that lower triglycerides also reduce the risks of heart disease.
Overall, it's important to remember that improving diet and lifestyle will lower triglycerides and lower the overall risk of heart and blood vessel problems.
Controlling High Triglycerides: Lifestyle Changes
Although finding out that you have high triglycerides might be upsetting, there's a lot you can do on your own to lower them. Making changes to your lifestyle can have a dramatic benefit. Here are some suggestions:
- Get more physical activity. Exercise can have a big impact on triglyceride levels. Experts recommend that everybody get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five times a week. If you're out of shape, start slowly. Begin with a quick walk three times a week and then build up from there.
- Lose some weight. If you're heavy, shed a few pounds and try to maintain an ideal body weight. Exercise will help, but you also need to focus on diet. The key is to eat fewer calories -- whether they come from fats, carbs, or protein. Focus on a diet that's high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Cutting down on sugary foods -- like sodas -- could really help, too.
- Choose better fats. Pay more attention to the fats you eat. Eat less foods with unhealthy fats (found in meat, butter, and cheese) and trans fats (in processed foods and margarines), as well as cholesterol. Boost your intake of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, nuts, and some fish. Studies have found that the omega-3s in fatty fish -- like tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines -- are particularly good at lowering triglyceride levels. Because even healthy fats are high in calories, you still need to eat these foods in moderation.
- Cut down on alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol seem to cause big spikes in triglyceride levels. Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.