Triglycerides, a type of lipid (fat) found in the body, serve as a source of energy for your cells. They circulate in the bloodstream and are also stored in your body fat to be used as energy between meals. While triglycerides are necessary for your body to function properly, high triglyceride levels can put you at risk for developing heart disease and stroke.
How Can You Determine if You Have High Triglycerides?
The best way to determine if your triglyceride levels are high is with a routine lipid panel test, which your doctor can prescribe. You should fast for at least 12 hours and avoid alcohol before you have your blood sample taken, as recent consumption of food or alcohol can affect the results.
What Are Healthy Triglyceride Levels?
Your triglyceride levels should measure below 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
While it's important to know your triglyceride number, you should also inquire about your triglyceride to HDL (TG: HDL) ratio. Many doctors now believe that your TG: HDL ratio is a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than your cholesterol ratio. Research suggests that your triglyceride (TG) to HDL ratio (TG: HDL) can strongly predict your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and diabetes as well. To learn more, check out Triglyceride to HDL Ratio.
What Causes High Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are produced in the liver, but most come from the foods we eat. Excess consumption of foods high in saturated fat, trans fats, and simple carbohydrates can lead to elevated triglyceride levels. Packaged foods and fried foods tend to be loaded with simple carbohydrates, saturated fat, and trans fat, so regular consumption of these foods can significantly raise your triglyceride levels. You should avoid foods such as potato chips, fried foods, packaged meats, cakes and cookies, soda, and frozen pizzas. Luckily, you can lower your triglycerides by making simple lifestyle changes. For more information about how to lower your triglyceride levels through diet, check out 7 Day Diet to Lower Triglycerides.
Hereditary factors, certain medical conditions, and medications can also contribute to elevated triglyceride levels. Examples of medications that can elevate triglyceride levels include some of those used to treat breast cancer, HIV, and hypertension. Certain inherited metabolic lipid disorders that inhibit the body from metabolizing fats can lead to elevated triglyceride levels in the blood as well. Unfortunately, some people develop high triglyceride levels due to illnesses.
Some illnesses associated with high triglycerides include:
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Thyroid disorders
While certain illnesses, medications, and genetic factors play a role, diet and lifestyle factors are the most significant contributors to high triglycerides for the majority of people in the United States.
What If Your Levels Are High?
If your triglyceride levels are slightly elevated, you will likely not experience any symptoms, so getting a blood test at your routine screening is critical. In most cases, you can decrease your triglyceride levels and lower your chances of developing heart disease or stroke by making simple lifestyle changes.
However, if you have high triglycerides and a number of other symptoms associated with heart disease, you should discuss a treatment plan with your doctor. Elevated triglycerides are associated with metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by a group of health conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, high triglycerides, and abnormal cholesterol levels. You must have all five symptoms in order to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is one of the most reliable indicators of cardiac disease, and nearly one-third of Americans have it. Luckily, many of the components of metabolic syndrome can be cured through diet and exercise.
What If Your Levels Are Really High?
Extremely high triglyceride levels above 1,500 mg/dL may put you at risk of developing pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. Other symptoms of extremely high triglyceride levels include memory loss and swelling of the liver and spleen. If your triglyceride levels are very high, it's essential to seek medical treatment right away.
Symptoms of extremely high triglyceride levels include:
- 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
In some cases, extremely high triglyceride levels can cause Lipemia Retinitis, which causes the blood vessels in the eye to take on a distinctive creamy white appearance.
What Can You Do to Lower Your Triglyceride Levels?
- Lose weight.
- Exercise regularly for at least 150 minutes per week (moderate-intensity).
- Consume a heart healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils (such as olive oil), low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid fried and highly processed foods.
- Limit the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in your diet.
- Reduce alcohol intake.
- Quit smoking.
- Add a heart health supplement to your diet, like Healthycell's Heart and Vascular Health supplement. Some ingredients that you should look for in a heart health supplement include Omega-3 fatty acids, soluble fiber, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Healthycell's Heart and Vascular Health supplement contains all of these ingredients and more. To learn more, check out Supplements That Lower Triglycerides.
Your doctor may recommend medications, such as statins, to treat excessive triglyceride levels. 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.