Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. Excess triglycerides are then stored in fat cells throughout your body. If you eat too many calories, it is a good bet that those extra calories will be triglycerides at some point. A normal triglyceride level is less than 150 mg/dl and anything higher than this could be classed as high triglycerides. The American Heart Association encourages a level of less than 100 mg/dl for improved heart health. Unfortunately, they don’t really go into detail why or how.
Now your physician is telling you to lower your triglycerides because “it is good for your heart.” But is that true? Will lowering your triglycerides lessen your chances of a heart attack? The answer is both no and yes.
Why the answer is no
This is going to be a generally short and underdeveloped answer. The problem is that there are a number of reasons why I want to encourage you to lower your triglycerides but the most are not directly involved related to heart disease. There have been some smaller research trials that showed there may be benefit but when this research was implemented in large groups of people, they fizzled. We don’t really know if or how hight triglycerides directly contribute to heart disease. It may well be that they make no direct contribution.
Why the answer is yes
While high triglycerides may not directly be responsible for heart disease, it is a giant red flag, warning us of more ominous problems lurking. High triglycerides have been associated with a four-fold higher risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to similar patients with normal levels. High triglycerides are associated with diabetes, metabolic syndrome (refer to our blog posts on diabetes and metabolic syndrome for more details) and kidney disease, all of which are associated with cardiovascular problems.
When I see you in clinic and you have high triglycerides, my mind immediately switches to the same message as when your blood sugar is high. Trouble may not be at your heart’s doorstep yet, but it is probably just down the street. We don’t have much time to diffuse the ticking time-bomb of cardiac risk factors.
How can I lower my triglycerides?
Funny thing about this is that you already know the answer. As a matter of fact, these are good lessons to live by for all of us.
- Lose weight – small decreases in weight result in drastic changes in your triglyceride level.
- Monitor your food – processed and fatty food are easily converted into triglycerides. They tend to have lots of salt which affects your blood pressure. The simple sugars will eventually push you into diabetes.
- Omega-3 Unsaturated fats – those fats found in fatty fish, soybeans and flaxseed can help lower your triglycerides.
- Alcohol – Alcohol in moderation can be your best friend. It lowers your risk of cardiac disease. Alcohol in high quantifies is your worst enemy. Not only does it increase your triglycerides, it puts you at risk for heart failure, atrial fibrillation, pancreatitis and liver failure.
- Be active – exercise, dance, swim, walk to dog, practice martial arts, etc.
These changes not only lower your triglycerides but also:
- Lower your blood glucose level.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Lower your bad cholesterol (LDL)
- Raise your good cholesterol (HDL)
- Improve self-confidence
- Improve depression
- Improve your energy
- Improve your quality of sleep
- Improve sexual function and stamina
So what does all this mean?
High Triglycerides are bad for your heart. It may not be the triglycerides themselves as much as it is all the other things that are associated with high triglycerides. Medicines can lower your triglyceride levels but they may not improve your risk of heart disease. Changes in your diet and lifestyle WILL be very powerful at improving both your triglycerides and risk of heart disease so get up, get active and eat right.
- Diabetes and my heart (myheart.net/articles)
- Do I really need that statin drug? (myheart.net/articles)
- The Fish Oil diaries – Part 1- high fat diets and heart protection (myheart.net/articles)
- The Fish Oil Diaries – Part 2 – Supplements and a Western diet (myheart.net/articles)