An increasing number of my patients are informed about “good cholesterol” vs. “bad cholesterol” and “good fats” vs. “bad fats,” but few know what triglycerides are and what their function is within the body. Triglycerides make up a significant portion of the fat that occurs naturally in your blood. If yours is too high, you often don’t know it until after you’ve have a heart attack or stroke – unless you’ve had it checked by your doctor.
Why it Matters
Triglycerides are a type of fat or lipid in your blood. They are, in fact, the most common type of fat in the body and come from the natural oils in the fatty foods we eat. While triglycerides are important and necessary to maintain your health, high levels of triglycerides can damage your body.
Research has found that high levels of triglycerides can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries. This buildup can harden the walls of the arteries, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease.
High triglyceride levels are typically caused by other conditions such as obesity, poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism and kidney disease and from regularly eating more calories than burned or drinking a lot of alcohol.
Certain medications can also elevate triglycerides. These include tamoxifen, steroids, beta-blockers, diuretics, estrogen and birth control pills.
Lower Your Triglyceride Levels
Triglycerides are usually evaluated with a blood test called a Lipid Profile, which shows your triglyceride level, total cholesterol level, HDL “good” cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels. Your doctor will let you know where your triglyceride results fall among the national guidelines.
If your physician has told you your triglyceride levels are high and you need to lower them, I have good news. While making lifestyle changes isn't necessarily easy, you won't have to change much to start noticing a difference.
Instead of eating full-fat dairy foods for example, try switching to low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Better yet, try cutting out most dairy all together. Instead of red meat, opt for lean cuts of meat instead such as chicken or salmon. Reducing alcohol intake also lowers the level of triglycerides, as does quitting smoking. If you're hungry between meals, instead of reaching for processed foods that are high in simple sugars or saturated fat, snack instead on avocados, nuts, fruits or vegetables. It's important to pay attention to the amount of calories you are taking in each day. Make sure you’re burning more than you are consuming. Limiting sugar, losing weight, being active and living a generally healthier lifestyle are all good ways to lower your triglyceride levels. But before you start any diet or exercise routine, make sure to check with your physician to ensure you’re healthy enough to make the change.