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Triglycerides: What You Need to Know

Conditions
Last Updated Aug 21, 2020

Triglycerides are one of the forms of fat found in the bloodstream. They provide your body with much-needed energy for the cells to function. In normal amounts, triglycerides are essential to life itself. Triglycerides may come from the food you eat and from sources produced within your body. Food contains calories that your body uses as energy for a number of bodily processes. The calories that your body does not use are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells for later use.

Triglycerides and cholesterol

The level of triglycerides in your blood is measured as part of a blood test that determines a person’s total cholesterol count. People with high triglyceride levels usually have high cholesterol levels. Accurate measurement can only be achieved after a twelve hour fast.

When Triglycerides Are High

Your body needs triglycerides in regular amounts to maintain good health. Clinical studies show, however, that the risk of heart disease increases as a person’s triglyceride level rises. In fact, a person’s triglyceride level is considered to be a fairly accurate predictor of a risk of heart attack.

Causes of High Triglycerides

Certain conditions may lead to having high triglyceride levels. These include:

  1. Obesity
  2. Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus
  3. Hypothyroidism
  4. Renal disease
  5. High-fat diets and lack of exercise
  6. Chronic and excessive alcoholic drinking
  7. Genetic predisposition

Certain medications may also cause high triglyceride levels. These are tamoxifen, steroids, beta-blockers, diuretics, oestrogen and birth control pills.

Symptoms of High Triglycerides

By itself, a high triglyceride level does not produce symptoms. However, in extreme levels xanthomas or pinhead-sized fatty deposits may appear under the skin. These are commonly found on the back, chest, bony elbows, knees and heels.

In high triglyceride levels of a genetic origin, minute, whitish bumps on eyelids are also a common sign.

Other persons with very high levels of triglycerides also experience inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) manifested by severe, sudden abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fever.

How you can lower triglyceride levels

Lifestyle modification is the best way to treat high triglyceride levels. Persons who have a family history of this condition should take extra precautions to prevent its onset. The following are simple adjustments that you can make to your diet and lifestyle:

Dietary changes

A diet low in saturated fats and carbohydrates can lower triglycerides. Sweets, especially baked cakes, cookies and other goods, are high in trans-fat and should be avoided. Eat more fibre-rich foods and whole grains to lower triglyceride levels.

Increase your intake of fatty fish like salmon instead of getting your protein from red meat. Fatty fish contain Essential Fatty Acids like Omega-3 which help promote healthy blood lipid levels.

Exercise and weight loss

Being overweight usually leads to having high triglyceride levels. Exercise burns calories. The best way to lower your triglyceride level and lose weight is to reduce your calorie intake while increasing your physical activity.

Avoid excessive alcohol intake

Alcohol is a strong triglyceride booster that even a single drinking binge may have an immediate impact, increasing its level in significant amounts. While drinking moderately may lower your triglyceride level, avoiding alcohol is best not just for your triglycerides but also for your pancreas.

Stop smoking

Smoking constricts the blood vessels. If your triglyceride level is already high, smoking further increases your risk for heart attacks.

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Originally published on Nov 18, 2019

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