What Are Triglycerides?

You may be meticulously checking your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels regularly; however, you should also monitor your triglyceride levels. Triglyceride is very important for your energy levels and normal body functions. You don't know what triglyceride is? Get all the needed information here!

What Are Triglycerides Exactly?

While you eat, any calories not needed by the body are converted into triglycerides which are stored in fat cells. Between meals, triglycerides are released for energy by certain hormones. Triglycerides are usually checked as part of a lipid profile or a lipid panel. Although cholesterol and triglycerides are both types of fat referred to as lipids in blood. The function of triglycerides is to provide energy for functioning of cells and alcohol metabolism while the function of cholesterol is to build several hormones and cells.

Level of Triglyceride

  • Normal: less than 1.7 mmol/L or less than 150 mg/dl
  • Borderline high: 1.8 to 2.2 mmol/L or 150 to 199 mg/dl
  • High: 2.3 to 5.6 mmol/L or 200 to 499 mg/dl
  • Very high: 5.7 mmol/L or more or 500 mg/dl or more

What If I Have High Triglycerides?

Although triglycerides are indispensable in supporting your daily life, high levels of triglycerides can be a band thing. Usually no symptoms are produced by high triglycerides but if not treated, it can cause serious issues.

  • High triglycerides can contribute to the thickening and hardening of walls of arteries, thereby increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease.
  • Severely high triglyceride levels such as above 11.29 mmol/L or 1000 mg/dl may also lead to development of acute pancreatitis.
  • As already mentioned, high triglycerides often indicate another condition such as metabolic syndrome and obesity that may elevate the risk of stroke and heart disease. Note that metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions like increased fat around waist, hypertension, high blood glucose, and abnormal levels of cholesterol.

Why Do I Have High Triglycerides?

After discussing "What are triglycerides?" let us discuss the causes of high triglycerides. Underlying conditions are usually the cause of high triglycerides, including:

  • Familial tendency
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes, poorly controlled
  • Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid
  • Disease of kidney
  • Eating more calories than normal
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Certain medicines, including tamoxifen, beta-blockers, steroids, diuretics, birth control pills and estrogen

How to Deal With High Triglycerides

After knowing "What are triglycerides" and when its levels are too high, you have to know how to balance your triglyceride level. There are many simple dietary and lifestyle measures that you can take to improve your triglyceride levels, some of which are described below:

1. Limit Sugar Intake

American Heart Association or AHA recommends only 5% of your daily calories should be from added sugars. That comes to about 150 g or 9 tsp. of sugar for males and 100 g or 6 tsp. for females. Since the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and soda are the largest source of sugar in the diet of an American, one sure way to limit your sugar intake is to restrict the intake of such drinks to 3 12-ounce cans per week.

2. Eat the Right Fat

You should eat a diet moderately low in fat to reduce your triglyceride levels. According to AHA recommendations, those who have high triglycerides should get around 25%-35% of their daily calories in the form of fat. That amounts to approximately 67 g of fat per day.

Restrict saturated fats found in poultry fat, red meat, cheese, butter, milk, palm and coconut oils. Keep trans fat to a minimum and replace them with healthier monounsaturated (olive and canola oils) and polyunsaturated fats (corn, safflower and soybean oils). At the same time, you should also keep in check the amount of unsaturated fats you eat as they are higher in calories and may cause you to gain weight.

3. Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake

Omega-3 fatty acid is a type of fat that is found in fatty fish, including lake trout, sardines and salmon, which is good for balancing your triglyceride levels. According to AHA recommendations, fatty fish should be eaten at least 2 times a week. In case you have high triglycerides, it is recommended to take capsules of omega-3 fatty acid for the extra boost. However, you should take the capsules under the supervision of your physician.

4. Get Enough Fiber

Replace foods made from refined white flour with foods made from whole grain flour. This way your fiber intake is increased, thereby decreasing your triglyceride levels. You can eat a bowl of oats along with berries for breakfast in place of sweet cereal or a bagel. Eat a salad made of veggies and garbanzo beans during lunch time. Eat quinoa or brown rice at dinner in place of pasta or potatoes.

5. Exercise Regularly

You should aim to get at least 30 minutes of any type of physical activity on all or most days of the week. Triglycerides levels can be decreased and good cholesterol levels can be boosted by regular exercise. You can take a brisk walk, join an exercise group or swim laps. If you find it difficult to exercise for 30 minutes at a stretch, divide the time into 3 10-minute activities. Go for a short walk during lunch time, climb stairs or try doing some pushups or sit-ups while watching your favorite show on television.

6. Lose Weight

"What are triglycerides?" It's a kind of fat. So, in overweight individuals, losing 5-10 pounds can help in lowering their triglyceride levels. You can try motivating yourself by keeping yourself focusing on the advantages of losing weight including improved health and more energy.

7. Take Medications

If you are unable to control your high triglyceride levels by following dietary measures alone, then your physician may recommend any of the following medicines:

  • Statins: You may be prescribed these medicines if you have low HDL or good cholesterol, have high LDL or bad cholesterol, or have a history of diabetes or blocked arteries. Some of the statins are simvastatin (Zocor) and atorvastatin (Lipitor).
  • Fish oils: As already discussed, taking fish oil capsules can help in lowering triglyceride levels. This option is often reserved for individuals whose levels are more than 5.7 mmol/L or 500 mg/dl.
  • Fibrates: Fibrate medicines including fenofibrate (Fenoglide and Tricor) and gemfibrozil (Lopid) are also used to lower triglyceride levels. They also work best in people whose levels of triglyceride are more than 5.7 mmol/L or 500 mg/dl.
  • Niacin: Also referred to as nicotinic acid, niacin is used to lower triglyceride and LDL or bad cholesterol levels. It is reserved for individuals who have levels of more than 5.7 mmol/L or 500 mg/dl. You should not take over-the-counter niacin without consulting your physician as niacin can interact with several other medicines and can result in severe adverse effects. 
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