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Why Are High Triglycerides Bad For Your Health?

Last updated April 29, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Example of an unsaturated fat triglyceride. Left part: glycerol, right part from top to bottom: palmitic acid, oleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid.

Triglycerides are fats that you consume and that your body can produce to provide energy. When you eat a meal high in fat, the fat is absorbed mainly in the small intestine. The small intestine packages the fat along with other products to be sent through the lymphatic system and then into the blood stream. In the bloodstream, fats are broken down by enzymes and free fatty acids are taken up by cells to be used as energy or stored for future use. Between meals or during times of starvation, the stored fats can be released and sent back into the bloodstream to feed the cells.

It is important to monitor triglyceride levels along with your cholesterol and blood pressure, because high levels of triglycerides can lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the thickening of artery walls, which causes blockages leading to heart attacks and strokes. High levels can be caused by liver damage, hypothyroidism, uncontrolled diabetes, kidney problems, and a poor diet. Other things associated with high levels can be obesity and even a genetic predisposition.

Additionally, low levels can be associated with hyperthyroidism, malnutrition, digestion problems, and low-fat diets. Therefore, high or low levels of triglycerides can be signs of other health problems. Blood tests can be used to monitor their levels, and this requires fasting for 12-14 hours beforehand. The normal level for adults is 150mg/dL, borderline high levels are between 150-199mg/dL, high is between 200-499mg/dL, and very high levels are anything above 500mg/dL.

If you have high levels of triglycerides, your doctor can help you find the right treatment plan. There are medications that can be prescribed, but lifestyle changes are also extremely effective. The best ways to lower your triglyceride levels include - losing weight, exercising, reducing caloric intake, eating healthier fats, and consuming less alcohol. Losing 5-10 pounds can lower your levels and improve your overall health. Exercise will help with weight loss and can help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Any excess calories taken in can be turned into triglycerides to be stored as fat. If you eat fewer calories, then fewer triglycerides will be produced. Trans fats are very unhealthy because they can lower good cholesterol and raise bad cholesterol levels, as well as increase your risk of developing health conditions such as heart disease. Healthy fats include mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids in olive oil and canola oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and nuts. Finally, drinking alcohol can cause your liver to produce excess triglycerides. Therefore, excess alcohol consumption should be avoided.

By making these changes you can help reduce your risk for developing diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, and diabetes.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003964/ (accessed on April 2, 2016)

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http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/medicalschool/departments/medicine/EndocrinologyMetabolismDiabetes/clinical/Documents/Lipid_Brochure.pdf (accessed on April 2, 2016)

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/triglycerides/art-20048186?pg=2 (accessed on April 2, 2016)

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp# (accessed on April 2, 2016)

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Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 29, 2016
Last updated: April 29, 2016