The Truth About Triglycerides

Triglycerides are essential to human life. These chains of fatty acids are absorbed into your system from the foods you eat and are even created by your own body. They circulate through your bloodstream, providing energy to cells and enabling your body to function. As long as you have a healthy amount in your body, triglycerides can be considered good. But, as with those other lipids in your blood (HDL and LDL cholesterol), your cardiovascular health can be at risk if your triglyceride levels are off.

Excess triglycerides cause a condition known as hypertriglyceridemia. According to the American Heart Association, "excess" means having triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL. Anything over 200 mg/dL is considered high or very high and puts your health at greater risk. Yet, despite the fact that extensive research shows a link between hypertriglyceridemia and heart disease, researchers are still looking for exactly what triglycerides do to your body to harm your cardiovascular system. In fact, there is some debate about whether hypertriglyceridemia is a cause of heart disease or if it is just a biomarker, something that indicates the likelihood of heart disease caused by other factors.

While there may be some unanswered questions related to triglycerides, you can still be sure of a clear connection between triglycerides and heart health. These are the vital facts to keep in mind:

1)  Patients with hypertriglyceridemia usually also have high levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol that contributes to plaque buildup in the heart) and low levels of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol that removes plaque from the walls of your blood vessels).

2) The presence of high amounts of triglycerides means you're more likely to be obese and have type 2 diabetes, two other risk factors for heart disease.

3) If you have coronary artery disease (CAD) and hypertriglyceridemia, you are more likely to die prematurely than if you have CAD with normal triglyceride levels.

Even if triglycerides' effect on your body isn't completely understood, studies show that getting high triglyceride levels under control will benefit your heart. Drugs are less effective in treating hypertriglyceridemia than they are in treating high cholesterol. To lower your triglyceride,s doctors recommend adopting a healthy lifestyle and sticking with it. Yo-yoing between healthy and unhealthy behaviors isn't going to help. Rather, if you have excess triglycerides you should commit to changes such as:

  • Cutting sugar from your diet. This is especially true if you have diabetes since uncontrolled diabetes can raise your triglyceride levels, but it's also important for non-diabetics.
  • Eliminating alcohol completely, because alcohol seems to have a clear negative impact on triglycerides.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight through smart eating and exercise. Losing just five or 10 pounds can improve your triglyceride levels.
  • Adding fish oil or flax oil to your diet. Talk to your doctor about adding a daily dose that can decrease triglyceride levels by up to 50 percent.



Miller, Michael , MD, FAHA, et. al. Triglycerides and Cardiovascular Disease." Circulation. 123 (2011): 2292-2333. Web February 8, 2012

Ockene, Ira, MD. "Triglycerides." Heart Health. University of Massachusetts Medical School, n.d. Web. February 7, 2012.

"Triglycerides." American Heart Association, n.d. Web. February 8, 2012.