High Blood Triglycerides

by Dr. Thomas K. Lo

Lowering your triglyceride level can improve your health. Triglycerides are a type of fat, also called a lipid, that occurs in the blood. Any calorie your body does not convert to energy right away is turned into triglycerides. Those lipid triglycerides then get stored in fat cells and are used as energy later. Like most fats, if you eat more calories than you burn, it could lead to high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides contain double the amount of energy as compared to both carbohydrates and proteins, which also supply energy to the body.

Triglycerides, HDL & LDL

Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids found in your blood. While cholesterol builds cells and supports certain hormones, triglycerides give your body energy by storing excess calories. High triglyceride levels can increase your risk of stroke or heart attack by thickening artery walls and hardening arteries. Triglycerides can even cause pancreatitis. Many times, high triglycerides go hand in hand with other medical conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, and metabolic syndrome.

Being physically inactive, eating foods high in certain fats and sugars, and drinking too much alcohol may increase blood triglycerides. Some medicines used to treat breast cancer, high blood pressure, HIV, and other conditions may increase triglyceride levels in the blood.

Lipid panels measure total cholesterol, which include HDL “good” (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which works to remove LDL “bad” (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which can build up in the arteries and cause blockage in blood vessels and triglyceride levels in your blood.

Factors That Can Raise Triglycerides and What May Help Lower Triglycerides

Factors that can raise your triglyceride level include eating more calories than you burn off, especially if you eat a lot of sugar; being overweight or obese; cigarette smoking; excessive alcohol use; certain medicines; some genetic disorders; thyroid disease; poorly controlled type 2 diabetes; metabolic disease; and liver or kidney disease.

Triglyceride levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The guidelines for triglyceride levels are normal if less than 150mg/dL, borderline high is between 151 to 199 mg/dL, high levels are 200 to 499 mg/dL, and considered very high if above 500 mg/dL.

Case-control studies have shown that high triglycerides are an independent cardiovascular disease risk factor. Also, a recent study concluded that in younger persons, the highest levels of triglycerides corresponded with a four times greater risk of heart disease and stroke risk compared to similar patients in the study who had the lowest levels of triglycerides. (Tirosh et al, Ann Intern Med 2007).

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends changes in lifestyle habits as the main therapy for high triglycerides. You should focus on fiber-rich complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and whole grains, low sugar fruits, and unsweetened dairy instead of simple sugars. 

All people, whether or not they have high triglycerides, should limit their intake of added sugars. If a person has high triglycerides, it is especially important to limit daily calories from added sugar to no more than 5 percent to 10 percent (no more than 100 calories for most women and no more than 150 calories per day for most men). Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. They do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in milk (lactose) and fruits (fructose). For those people above 150 mg/dL triglycerides, limit fructose and emphasize more vegetables and fruits that are lower in fructose. People who consume large amounts of beverages with added sugars tend to consume more calories overall and tend to gain weight. Currently, it is estimated that soft drink consumption alone accounts for one third of added sugars intake in the U.S. diet. Those with triglycerides outside the normal range should limit fructose consumption to 50 to 100 grams per day, because fructose raises triglycerides.

The type of carbohydrates that you eat makes a difference. Foods that contain high amounts of simple sugars, especially fructose, raise triglyceride levels. Trans fats raise triglycerides, while omega-3 fats found in fatty fish and avocados lower triglyceride levels.

Alcohol in high amounts increases triglyceride levels in some people. In individuals with very high triglycerides, abstinence from alcohol is best.

If you are overweight and lose weight, it will result in a 20 percent decrease in triglycerides—the magnitude of decrease in triglycerides are directly related to the amount of weight lost.

Physical activity plays an important role in lowering triglycerides. The effects that physical activity has on triglyceride levels vary depending upon baseline triglyceride level, level of intensity, caloric expenditure, and duration of activity. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days, for a total of at least 150 minutes per week.  

Visceral fat is strongly associated with insulin resistance (an inability of the body to use insulin to convert food into energy) and high levels of triglycerides. Visceral fat lies deep inside the abdomen, near the waistline surrounding the abdominal organs. The best way to lose this fat is to lose excess weight by eating a healthy diet, along with getting regular physical activity. Physical activity helps reduce abdominal fat and preserve muscle during weight loss. Also, lowering your stress level helps with losing visceral fat.

Substituting carbohydrates for fats may raise triglyceride levels and may decrease HDL “good” cholesterol in some people. So keep healthy dietary fat to 25-35 percent of total diet. A statement released by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults, suggests that very high intakes of carbohydrates (greater than 60 percent of total calories) are accompanied by a rise in triglycerides. Lower intakes (e.g., 50 percent of calories) should be considered for persons with metabolic syndrome who have elevated triglycerides or low HDL “good” cholesterol.

So, what is metabolic syndrome? It is a cluster of easily measured metabolic factors, which occur together. It occurs when a person has three or more of the following five factors: elevated waist circumference, elevated triglycerides, reduced HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, elevated fasting glucose. Metabolic syndrome develops in the setting of excess calories and a sedentary lifestyle with underlying causes being obesity and insulin resistance. Most studies show that the metabolic syndrome is associated with an approximate doubling of heart disease and stroke risk and a five times greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle modifications are important to reducing risk from the metabolic syndrome, since they improve all of the components of the metabolic syndrome.

   If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.

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