The Other Lipid: What Are Triglycerides and 7 Cholesterol Questions, Answered
When it comes to your heart health, you probably know some of the most important numbers to watch for: blood pressure, weight, cholesterol – especially low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol. Did you know you should also keep tabs on your triglycerides to help prevent your risk of heart disease?
Triglycerides are a type of lipid, or fat, in your blood. In healthy amounts, they give you energy. However, high triglyceride levels may increase your risk of heart disease. Here’s what you need to know about them.
- What are triglycerides? They’re the most common type of fat in your body, and they come from both the fats you eat and the extra calories you consume – the ones your body doesn’t need right away. Those extra calories get stored in your fat cells as triglycerides. Later, those cells release triglycerides to give you energy.
- What’s the difference between triglycerides and cholesterol? Triglycerides provide energy while cholesterol is used to build cells, among other functions. Both are beneficial in moderate amounts, and both can be bad news for your heart when you have excessive amounts.
- How can I find out my triglyceride level? Doctors usually test for triglyceride levels when they test for cholesterol levels. This is done with a simple blood test.
- What should my triglyceride level be? Ideally, your number should be less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Lab results that come back between 150-199 mg/dL are considered borderline high. Any higher and you’re in high-triglyceride territory.
- What causes high triglycerides? Regularly eating more calories than you need, especially sugar and processed foods, is a major cause of high triglycerides. Other causes include being overweight or obese, cigarette smoking, drinking too much alcohol, certain medicines and having poorly controlled type 2 diabetes.
- Do high triglycerides cause heart disease? They may contribute to hardened or thickened artery walls, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. High triglycerides are also a red flag for other health problems, such as type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, low levels of thyroid hormones, and metabolic syndrome: a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and obesity.
- How can I lower my triglycerides naturally? In addition to avoiding sugar and other refined foods – white bread and white pasta, we’re looking at you – lose some weight, swap out saturated fats for healthier fats, limit alcohol, don’t smoke and aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
- Are there medicines to lower triglycerides? When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may recommend a fibrate medication such as fenofibrate or gemfibrozil. If you have high cholesterol along with high triglycerides, your doctor may recommend a statin drug. Niacin and fish oil, both prescription and over the counter, may also lower triglycerides. Since these supplements can come with serious risks, be sure to check with your primary care doctor before trying them.
If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you and develop a wellness plan that can help you lower your triglycerides and prevent cardiovascular disease. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »