Know your numbers: triglycerides

Where do triglycerides come from, what are they and why do they matter?

You may know blood pressure and cholesterol play a role in conditions like diabetes and heart disease, among others. But do you know how triglycerides fit in?

What are triglycerides?

When you eat, your body turns excess calories, alcohol or sugar into triglycerides and stores them in the blood. Many of the fatty foods we eat, such as palm oil, coconut oil and butter, have triglycerides.

What is the difference between triglycerides and cholesterol?

Cholesterol and triglycerides are different types of lipids that do different jobs. Triglycerides are fat; cholesterol is not. Triglycerides provide energy to the body. Cholesterol is used to build cells and certain hormones, and helps with digestion. If you have a high level of triglycerides, it increases your risk for heart disease.

How do you check your triglyceride levels?

You can get a blood test from your doctor called a lipid profile. It shows levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol) levels. It’s important not to eat at least 12 hours before the test because triglyceride levels usually are highest after you eat.

What are the guidelines for triglyceride levels?

The guidelines for fasting triglyceride levels in adults are:

  • Normal: Less than 150 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL)
  • Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • High: 200 to 499 mg/dL
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL or higher

Levels higher than 200 mg/dL are associated with an increase in risk for heart attack, stroke and death.

Can you lower your triglyceride level?

If your triglyceride level is high, talk with your doctor. Several medications and conditions can cause triglycerides to be high. You can start to lower triglycerides by eating a healthier diet, getting exercise and trying to maintain a healthy weight. Another way to lower triglycerides is to include more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, such as fatty fishes, walnuts, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, flaxseed and olive oil.

Cut back on things like:

  • Simple carbohydrates (potatoes, white bread, crackers and chips)
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar (soft drinks, candy and baked goods like cakes and cookies)

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