Triglycerides are a kind of fat (lipid) found in blood. Cholesterol is another kind. Stored in fat cells for later use, triglycerides are a major energy source. Normal amounts are important for good health. Eating more fat than the body burns can lead to high triglyceride levels (hypertriglyceridemia). High triglyceride levels may result in hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which increases risks of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. They can be part of metabolic syndrome, which also includes too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Sometimes high triglyceride levels mean poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism), liver or kidney disease, or rare genetic conditions.
Causes include obesity, eating too much unhealthy food, genetics, certain illnesses including poorly controlled diabetes, kidney disease, and underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Some drugs, such as steroids and birth control pills, and drinking a lot of alcohol can also cause it.
Most people have no symptoms. Very high levels can cause small fat deposits under the skin and a painful inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis.
Blood levels are measured. Normal levels are below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). High levels are 200 to 499. Very high levels are 500 or above.
The best ways to lower triglycerides include losing weight, eating fewer calories, and exercising regularly (30 minutes daily). Diet changes that may help include avoiding fats and sugar and refined foods (simple carbohydrates such as sugar and foods made with white flour). Also avoid alcohol and limit fats found in meats high in saturated fat, egg yolks, and whole milk products. Trans fats, found in fried foods and commercial baked products, are unhealthy. Eat healthy monounsaturated fats—olive, peanut, and canola oils. Eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (mackerel, salmon) instead of red meat.
If diet changes and exercise don’t work, medicines such as nicotinic acid (niacin), fibrates (e.g., fenofibrate, gemfibrozil), and omega-3 fatty acids (over-the-counter fish oil supplements) can help lower triglycerides. Niacin side effects (itching, facial flushing, liver problems) limit its use. Cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins (e.g., simvastatin, atorvastatin, rosuvastatin) can also lower triglycerides, but their effect is limited.
It’s also important to control diabetes since a high sugar level will also increase triglycerides.
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