Triglycerides and Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 23, 2023
3 min read

No one wants type 2 diabetes. It’s a condition that affects your whole body and gets progressively worse, possibly leading to loss of vision and feeling (especially in your feet and fingertips), as well as kidney disease and heart disease. Having high triglycerides -- a type of fat in the blood -- may be a sign you may have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Luckily, with some effort, you can lower your weight and increase your exercise which can lower your risk for both high triglycerides and diabetes.

High triglycerides don't cause diabetes. Instead, their levels indicate that your system for turning food into energy isn't working properly.

Normally, your body makes insulin, which “escorts” glucose -- the type of sugar in your blood --inside your cells. There, your body turns glucose into energy. Insulin also allows your body to use triglycerides for energy.

A common cause of high triglycerides is excess carbohydrates in your diet. High TG’s signals insulin resistance; that’s when the cells (like muscle cells) that normally respond to insulin are resistant to it. This keeps the insulin from allowing the cells to absorb glucose uptake, requiring higher and higher levels of insulin. This results in higher than normal blood sugar levels.  

If you have insulin resistance, you’re one step closer to type 2 diabetes.

If you also are overweight, eat a lot of sugary and starchy foods, or don’t exercise, your insulin resistance can be worse.

You can reverse your tracks by following the exercise and meal plan your doctor recommends to lower your triglycerides and by taking prescribed medicine.

Your doctor can check your blood sugar (also called glucose) levels, by taking a sample of your blood after you’ve fasted, which means you haven’t eaten for about 6 hours. The doctor may also test the level of glucose in your blood with a special blood test called A1c. The result shows the average level of sugar over the previous 3 months.

If your glucose levels are high, but not enough to equal diabetes, you could have prediabetes. If you do, without a change in your behavior, you have a much higher risk of developing full blown diabetes. When you have prediabetes (or diabetes), you are also likely to have high triglycerides.

But, it’s not too late to reverse your tracks and reduce your blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol. When you follow your doctor’s guidance about eating, exercising, and taking prescribed medicines, your blood sugars will return to a healthy level. If you don’t choose this path and don’t treat your prediabetes, it can turn into diabetes.

If your blood sugar levels climb to a high enough level, you have diabetes. If you don’t treat it, then over time, high blood sugar levels injure nerves and harm blood vessels, which impairs circulation. The damage can affect your vision, your kidneys, and even your brain cells. Beyond this cascade of problems, diabetes dramatically increases your risk of heart disease, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Talk to your doctor about a treatment plan to bring down your blood sugar levels. Your high triglycerides will follow and decrease as well. Your plan is likely to include both medication and lifestyle changes. It’s worth it because your efforts can help reduce complications from diabetes, which can include blindness, bladder problems, and sexual issues.