Triglycerides are a type of fat converted from the excess calories we do not immediately use. Mainly derived from the fat and carbohydrates we eat, triglyceride stocks are used for energy in between meals, but the problem arises when we take in more than we burn.
Although cholesterol and fat are essential for the body, keeping your levels within the norm is imperative, as high levels increase the risk of serious health issues, especially cardiovascular disease.
Below are the National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines for triglyceride levels:
- Normal triglyceride levels: below 150 mg/dL
- Borderline high triglyceride levels: 150 to 199 mg/dL
- High triglyceride levels: 200 to 499 mg/dL
- Very high triglyceride levels: 500 mg/dL or higher
The good news is, even if you have a high triglyceride count, you can naturally lower your levels to protect your heart and reduce your risk of cardiovascular events and other health complications.
Significance of triglyceride levels
When blood lipids (fats) are elevated, it increases the risk of certain disease and disorders. Many studies have provided considerable evidence showing that high triglyceride levels are linked to cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis.
This correlation occurs because high triglyceride levels lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque is a combination of cholesterol, triglyceride fats, calcium, cellular waste, and fibrin (material used in blood clots).
The buildup of plaque deposits is a major contributor to heart disease, as it inevitably leads to decreased blood flow in the arteries. Not only does it have the potential to narrow blood vessels, plaques may also break off the vessel wall, creating an embolus (a free-floating clot). The embolus can become lodged in small arteries in the heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke respectively. High triglyceride levels may also increase the risk of damage to the pancreas, which is responsible for the production of many hormones, including insulin.
High triglyceride level causes
Triglycerides come from the fats we consume in our diet and our ability to metabolize them. The most common contributors to elevated triglyceride levels are:
- High-calorie diet
- High-fat diet
- Alcohol consumption
- Diabetes (primarily type 2)
- Renal disease
- Some medications (oral estrogen, corticosteroids, antiretroviral drugs)
Some individuals may be at a greater risk than others. These groups include:
- Native Americans
- Mexican-American men
- Obese individuals
- Women, especially those you are pregnant, or women taking estrogen
- Individuals who have developed heart disease before the age of 50
How to measure triglyceride level?
There is no other way to get your triglyceride levels checked then a blood test. Your doctor will order a “lipid panel,” which will give them a list of all your lipid levels in the bloodstream. This assessment will also look at cholesterol, giving your doctor a good idea of what your cardiovascular risk currently is. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that everyone 21 years and older get a lipid panel at least every 5 years.
How to lower triglycerides naturally with lifestyle changes
Here are some necessary lifestyle changes you can make in order to lower your triglyceride levels and live a healthier life. Not only will these changes help support healthy heart numbers, but they are beneficial for your overall health too.
Lose weight: If you are currently overweight, losing 5–10 percent of your body weight will reduce triglyceride levels by about 20 percent.
Cut out sugar: The American Heart Association recommends only five percent of your daily calories come from added sugar. This is no more than about nine tablespoons for men and six tablespoons for women. It is a good idea to be aware of everything you consume, as substantial amounts of sugar may be hiding where you least expect it.
Increase your fiber intake: Consume more fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Limit fructose: Fructose is a type of sugar that can contribute to high triglyceride levels, studies have shown. High fructose corn syrup is a common substitute for table sugar and contains just as many calories. Be aware of the inclusion of fructose corn syrup by reading the ingredients labels of the foods you eat.
Eat a moderately low-fat diet: A moderately low-fat diet has been shown to be more effective for lowering triglyceride levels compared to a strict low-fat diet. The AHA recommends that 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories come from fat. Choosing more food items that state they are “low fat” is a safe way to help lower your triglyceride levels.
Be mindful of the fat you eat: There are good fats and bad fats. Avoid saturated and trans fats and consume more monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat, which are typically found in olive oil. While these foods are better for you in terms of cholesterol and triglyceride counts, they are still high in calories, so keep that in mind.
Add omega-3 fatty acids: Increase your fish intake, as they are a rich source of omega-3s. Go for salmon, herring, lake trout, and sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in pill form.
Exercise: Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days a week will help lower body weight and reduce triglyceride levels.
Limit alcohol: Those who have been diagnosed with high triglyceride levels are advised to avoid alcohol entirely.
Take triglyceride-lowering drugs: Only if recommended by your doctor. These may include, fibrates, niacin, omega-3s, or statin medication. It is important to not only rely on these medications, as diet and exercise are often part of the treatment regimen.