What are Triglycerides? | High and Normal Triglyceride Levels | Risks and Causes of High Levels of Triglycerides | How Can You Lower Your High Triglyceride Levels?

What are Triglycerides?(1)

The most common type of fat in the body present is Triglycerides. Triglycerides are stored in the body and are used for giving energy in between meals. If the Triglycerides are increased in the blood, then it causes many health problems in the future.

Whenever you eat something, the excess sugar, calories and alcohol, which are not needed by the body, are converted into triglycerides and get stored in the fat cells. Whenever your body needs energy, the triglycerides are released. A person can have high levels of triglycerides when they eat excessive high-carbohydrate foods and do not burn them.

Hypertriglyceridemia is the medical term for high triglyceride levels and is thought to be a high-risk factor for atherosclerosis, where the arteries become narrowed and can potentially lead to heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease and also liver disease and pancreatitis.

The Functions & Similarities Between Triglycerides and Cholesterol (2,3)

Both cholesterol and triglycerides are consumed from food and manufactured in the liver and circulate in the blood. There are some similarities in both of them; however, the role that they play is different.

Triglycerides are a form of lipid or fat that gets stored in the body from the unused or excessive calories.

Cholesterol is a lipoprotein and it produces certain hormones, used to build cells and produce vitamin D.

What are High and Normal Triglyceride Levels?(3)

A lipid panel is done to test the blood for levels of triglycerides; total cholesterol; LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. This test will require you to fast for about 8 to 12 hours before taking it. The normal and high ranges of triglycerides between the different age groups are:

  1. In Adults: The normal triglyceride level is below 150 mg/dl; Borderline High triglyceride level is 151 to 199 mg/dl; high triglyceride level is more than 200 mg/dl and very high triglyceride level is more than 500 mg/dl in Adults.
  2. In Children below 10 years of age is: The normal triglyceride level is below under 75 mg/dl; Borderline High triglyceride level is 75 to 99 mg/dl; high triglyceride level is more than over 100 mg/dl.
  3. In Children aged between 10 to 19 years: The normal triglyceride level is below under 75 mg/dl; Borderline High triglyceride level is 75 to 99 mg/dl; high triglyceride level is more than 100 mg/dl.

How Often The Triglyceride Level Should Be Tested?(3)

According to The American Heart Association, individuals over the age of 20 years should get tested for their triglycerides level about every 4 to 6 years.(6) Testing the levels of triglycerides also depends on your health and can be done more often depending on the doctor’s advice. Children between the ages of 9 and 11 should be checked once and children between the ages of 17 and 21 should also check their triglyceride levels at least once between these ages.

What are the Risks and Causes of High Levels of Triglycerides or Hypertriglyceridemia?(3)

Increased levels of triglycerides can occur as a result of:

  • Excessive alcohol use.
  • Having a family history of increased cholesterol.
  • Being obese or overweight.
  • Having unhealthy eating habits by consuming sugar and carbohydrate rich diet.
  • Having kidney or liver disease.
  • Having diabetes which is not in control.
  • Having hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Undergoing menopause.
  • The use of certain medications, such as hormones, diuretics, beta-blockers and corticosteroids.
  • Having thyroid disease.
  • If you are a smoker.
  • If you are having increased levels of triglycerides, then the risk of getting arteriosclerosis increases along with heart disease, stroke and heart attack. The risk of suffering from liver disease and pancreatitis also increases with your triglyceride levels.

How Can You Lower Your High Triglyceride Levels?(1,3,4)

You can decrease your high triglyceride levels by following these three important ways:

  1. Exercise: Being physically active along with exercising regularly is very important to lower your high levels of triglycerides and to benefit your overall health. According to The American Heart Association, it is important to get 40 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise at least three to four times in a week for optimum triglycerides level.(7)
  2. Healthy Diet: To achieve a normal level of triglycerides, it is important to avoid trans-fats, simple carbohydrates, sugar and foods containing hydrogenated fats or oils. The better option would be plant-based fats like canola oil and olive oil, which are healthier. Instead of consuming red meat, you should eat fish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and mackerel. Avoid high calorie and sugary foods and excessive alcohol use.
  3. Weight: Obese people need to shed their excess weight by exercising and following a healthy diet. As the extra calories get converted into triglycerides and are stored as fat, cutting down on calories will help in lowering the triglycerides.

Some of the other lifestyle modifications for lowering the level of triglycerides are:(3)

  • Getting sufficient sleep.
  • Controlling diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Relaxing more and managing stress.
  • Quitting smoking.

If these lifestyle changes are not working for lowering the high triglycerides, then your physician will prescribe medications like statins to lower your triglycerides. A supplement such as fish oil or niacin can also be prescribed.

Do You Need To Worry About Low Triglyceride Levels?

Low triglycerides are usually nothing to worry about; and hence there isn’t any current range for them. Having a low triglyceride level that is below 150 mg/dl is mostly because of your lifestyle choices that may be: healthy diet, low-fat diet and fasting. A low triglyceride level can also indicate something else such as malabsorption or malnutrition; and these conditions are usually diagnosed by other symptoms.

When to Seek Medical Advice?

A high triglyceride level often does not produce any symptoms, so this condition is usually diagnosed during routine blood tests including a lipid panel.

If the patient does not have any medical conditions or bad lifestyle choices, then the doctor usually orders a lipid panel to be done every few years to assess the triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

If the triglyceride levels are detected above the normal range in the lipid panel, then the doctor will usually recommend lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet as the first line of treatment for hypertriglyceridemia. If diet and exercise are not effective in lowering the high triglycerides, then medications, such as fibrates or statins are prescribed.(5)

Conclusion

Hypertriglyceridemia or high triglyceride is a manageable condition starting with healthy diet and exercise. If these do not work, then medications in conjunction with healthy lifestyle choices help in lowering and controlling the triglycerides level. You should never ignore high levels of triglycerides, as if they are not dealt with on time, then it increases the risk for other heart conditions and stroke, liver disease and pancreatitis.

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