Normal Cholesterol, High Triglycerides

Even though your latest physical may have shown that your cholesterol levels are normal, you may still be at risk for heart disease if your triglycerides level is high.

A 20-year study conducted by the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine found that a pattern of elevated levels of triglycerides, the main form of fats (lipids) circulating in the bloodstream, even when cholesterol levels are normal, can mean a two- to three-fold increase of deaths by cardiovascular disease.

Blood triglycerides come from two main sources: the food you eat-especially sugar, animal products and saturated fats-and from your liver. Although it's not exactly clear how, high triglyceride levels can result in hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls (atherosclerosis), which can raise your risk for stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

  • Normal triglyceride levels are less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
  • Borderline high is 150-199 mg/dl; high is 200-499 mg/dl
  • Very high 500 mg/dl. A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dl or above is considered a risk for metabolic syndrome-a constellation of conditions resulting from too much fat around the waist-which in addition to raising your risk for heart disease, it can also increase your risk for diabetes.

Lowering Your Triglyceride Levels

Making some simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in helping bring down your triglyceride levels, including:

  • Losing weight. Dropping just five to ten pounds can help lower your triglycerides.
  • Avoiding sugary and refined foods. Stay away from simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and foods made with white flour.
  • Eliminating trans and saturated fats. Trans fats are found in fried foods and commercial baked products like cookies and crackers and saturated fats are found in meats. Instead, choose healthier monounsaturated fats found in plants, such as olive, peanut and canola oils, and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and mackerel.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and effects triglycerides. Even small amounts of alcohol can raise triglyceride levels.
  • Maintaining regular exercise. Regular exercise can increase HDL ("good") cholesterol levels and lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.

If making some lifestyle adjustments isn't enough to control your triglyceride levels, a medication may be necessary. Talk with your doctor to determine the best course of action for you to ensure a healthy heart.