What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are fats (lipids) that are stored in fat cells throughout the body and circulate in the blood. They serve as an energy source, provide insulation to help regulate body temperature, and play an important role in the body's metabolism. However, high levels of triglycerides, especially when combined with other risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity, are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. While triglycerides are produced in the liver as a part of its normal metabolic process, most of the triglycerides in our bodies come from the foods we eat, so you can lower your triglyceride levels by making dietary and lifestyle changes.
What Causes High Triglycerides?
Foods high in saturated fat, trans fats, and simple carbohydrates tend to contain the highest levels of triglycerides. Highly processed foods, such as processed meats, fried foods, potato chips, cakes, cookies, pies, frozen pizzas, and other packaged foods, contain high levels of saturated and trans fats, which contribute to elevated triglycerides. Poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking are all major contributing factors. However, other factors that contribute to high triglyceride levels include chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and even some medications. While some conditions and medications can contribute to high triglyceride levels, lifestyle factors are typically the main cause.
What Are Healthy Triglyceride Levels?
Your triglyceride levels should be under 150 mg/dL.
- Optimal: Under 90 mg/dL
- Normal: Under 150 mg/dL
- Borderline High: 150 to 199 mg/dL
- High: 200 to 499 mg/dL
- Very High: 500 mg/dL or higher
Extremely high triglyceride levels (above 1,000 mg/dL) can cause acute pancreatitis. If your triglyceride levels are very high, it's important to seek medical treatment right away.
What Are the Symptoms of High Triglycerides?
There are typically no symptoms associated with elevated triglyceride levels, so most people are unaware that their levels are high. Many people who complain of fatigue will notice that these symptoms subside with simple lifestyle changes. This is because fatigue alone is not a symptom of elevated triglycerides, but it is most likely due to other lifestyle factors and conditions associated with high triglyceride levels, such as heart disease. Therefore, while high triglyceride levels alone may not directly cause fatigue, they may indicate an underlying health condition that can contribute to it. However, if you have dangerously high triglyceride levels and are experiencing fatigue along with other symptoms, you should visit your doctor right away.
The best way to determine if your triglyceride levels are high is with a routine lipid panel test, which your doctor can prescribe. However, you can also order an at-home test kit through EverlyWell. While at-home test kits are convenient, you should still see your doctor for a physical examination. Your doctor should check your blood pressure and order a comprehensive blood test to rule out other potential issues.
If your triglyceride levels are elevated, you will likely not experience any symptoms. However, if you have extremely high levels of triglycerides, you may experience some of the symptoms listed below. If you experience fatigue along with other symptoms of extremely high triglyceride levels, you should see your doctor right away, as some of these symptoms can be life-threatening if not treated.
Symptoms of extremely high triglyceride levels include:
- Abdominal/stomach pain
- Nausea and diarrhea
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Itchy skin
- Xanthoma (fatty deposits under the skin, usually around the eyes, hands, feet, and tendons)
- Rapid Pulse
- Abdomen that is tender to the touch
Many of the above symptoms could indicate the onset of pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, leading to severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Therefore, it's important to visit a doctor as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms to decide whether you require additional treatment.
How Do Triglycerides and Cholesterol Differ?
Both cholesterol and triglycerides are fatty compounds known as lipids. Triglycerides make up the majority of fats in our bodies and are created by the body when extra calories are converted to fat for storage.
There are two different types of cholesterol:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: This is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol, as it can contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries. High levels of LDL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: This is often referred to as "good" cholesterol, as it helps to remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream and carry it back to the liver for processing. High levels of HDL are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is vital for carrying out cellular activities. Still, too much LDL and too little HDL cholesterol can cause dangerous plaque to form in the arteries, causing a reduction of blood flow to the heart and brain. This can result in heart disease, a heart attack, or stroke. You should have higher levels of HDL cholesterol and lower levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in your blood. For more information about ways to lower your cholesterol, check out How Long Does It Take To Lower Cholesterol?
Complications of High Triglycerides
If your triglycerides are high, it could be a sign that you have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of illnesses that raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. One of the most reliable indicators of cardiac disease is metabolic syndrome, but many people don't recognize that they have the condition. What are some indications that you have it?
Nearly one-third of Americans have metabolic syndrome. If you present three or more of the following symptoms, you may have metabolic syndrome:
- Excess belly fat around the waist: A measurement of over 40 inches for men and over 35 inches for women.
- High blood pressure: 130/85 mm/Hg or higher.
- High triglyceride levels: 150 mg/dL or higher.
- Low HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol): Under 40 mg/dL for men or under 50 mg/dL for women.
- High fasting glucose (blood sugar): Fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dL or higher is a risk factor. Anything between 100 and 125 mg/DL indicates prediabetes and a reading above 126 mg/dL indicates diabetes.
How Can I Decrease My Triglycerides?
You can decrease your triglyceride levels through lifestyle changes. If you smoke or have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it's crucial that you lower your triglycerides.
Some actions you can take to lower your triglyceride levels include:
- Losing weight.
- Regularly engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
- Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, healthy oils like olive oil, and lean meats. Staying away from fried and highly processed foods can make a huge difference.
- Limiting the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in your diet.
- Reducing alcohol intake.
- Quitting smoking.
- Taking a heart-health supplement such as Healthycell's Heart & Vascular Health supplement.
Your doctor may recommend drugs, such as statins, to treat excessive triglycerides if lifestyle changes are not enough. Statins prevent the liver from producing cholesterol and removing cholesterol from the arteries. They can help lower LDL and triglycerides.
However, these medications can present serious side effects, so discussing the pros and cons with your doctor, especially if you're taking other medications, is important.
About the Author
Dr. Giampapa is a world-renowned medical doctor, inventor, and surgeon specializing in anti-aging medicine. He recently received a nomination for the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking stem cell research, as well as the Edison Award for the Healthycell nutritional supplement for cell health. He was also awarded the A4M Science & Technology award for his development of the BioMarker Matrix Profile – the first computer program to measure aging.