If you think high triglycerides can't affect your health, think again.
Most fat in food, as well as in your body, is present in the form of triglycerides. Usually the body can control the amount of triglycerides it makes. But sometimes, unhealthy levels build up in the blood. High triglycerides can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke, among other health risks.
Typically, a high triglyceride level is a signal that your diet needs extra attention. Or, it may be due to an inherited disorder. Triglycerides are often raised in people with poorly-controlled diabetes or kidney problems. They can also be raised in a person with an underactive thyroid. The National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines for fasting triglycerides are:
|Normal||Less than 150 mg/dL|
|Borderline high||150 to 199 mg/dL|
|High||200 to 499 mg/dL|
|Very high||500 mg/dL or higher|
How to lower your level
If your triglycerides are high, it's likely you have other major heart disease risk factors. These can include obesity or high blood pressure. Diet and lifestyle changes can help you lower your triglycerides. They may also keep your body mass, cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure in check. Here's how to begin:
- Lose excess weight. If you're overweight, a weight loss of even a few pounds can be helpful. Taking in fewer calories and having smaller portion sizes are good ways to start.
- Avoid sugary foods and beverages. Like blood glucose levels, triglycerides are affected by the amount of sugar in the diet. Try to avoid sweets, soda, cakes, pastries and cookies. Also, limit other types of processed grains, like white pasta, white potatoes and white bread.
- Eat plenty of wholesome foods.
- Fresh fruits (versus juice)
- Fresh or frozen vegetables
- Beans, such as lentil, split pea, kidney, pinto and black
- Small portions of whole grains, such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, barley or oatmeal
- Lean proteins, such as fish, skinless chicken, turkey, tofu or very lean beef
- Increase omega-3 fats in your diet. Eat fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines or light tuna at least twice a week. Also include walnuts, flaxseed oil and dark leafy greens for vegetarian sources of omega-3. Other healthy fats include avocados, olive and canola oil, natural peanut butter and nuts (in moderation, as they are high in calories). Use these fats to replace saturated and trans sources of fat. These sources can include butter, cheese, red meat, fried foods, margarine and processed foods.
- Ask your doctor about an omega-3 supplement. If your triglycerides are high and you're not getting enough omega-3, ask your doctor if a supplement is right for you. The American Heart Association recommends 2 to 4 grams daily of DHA plus EPA (fish oil source of omega-3 fats) under a doctor's supervision.
- Avoid or limit alcohol. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar. It can also have a powerful effect on triglycerides. Small amounts of alcohol may increase your level. This can be especially true if you fall into the "high" or "very high" category.
- Exercise regularly. With your doctor's approval, work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least 5 days a week. That's 150 minutes per week. This can also raise HDL ("good") cholesterol. Whether it's walking, swimming or biking, choose something you enjoy so you'll stick to it.
- Consider combining lifestyle changes and medication to treat hypertriglyceridemia. The medications generally used for treating elevated cholesterol (statins) may also reduce triglycerides. However, when the triglyceride levels are high, medication for the treatment of triglycerides may be needed. In this situation, triglyceride medications are used in addition to cholesterol medications. But they do not replace cholesterol medications.
Created on 03/17/2008
Updated on 11/28/2012
- American Heart Association. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids.
- National Cholesterol Education Program. ATP III guidelines at-a-glance quick desk reference.
- American Heart Association. Triglycerides.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What is cholesterol?