Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. Your body can store these and use them as a source of energy. If your levels become too high it can increase your risk of heart disease. A healthy lifestyle can help lower your levels. And in some cases, your doctor might recommend medication.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. Your body makes them when you take in more calories than you need. These are then stored in your fat cells and your body can use them as a source of energy when needed.

Risks of high triglycerides

Some triglycerides are important for your health, but if your levels are too high ((hypertriglyceridemia) it can increase your risk of heart disease. This is because high levels are linked to hardening or thickening of your arteries — atherosclerosis. And this increases your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Very high levels can also cause your pancreas to become inflamed — pancreatitis.

Causes of high triglyceride levels

If you’ve eaten within the last few hours and measure your triglycerides, your levels might be raised. This is why it’s important to fast for at least 8 hours before doing a blood test.

If your triglycerides are high after fasting, it could be caused by a number of things.

Diet and lifestyle

If you regularly eat more calories than your body needs, it can raise your triglyceride levels. This particularly seems to be the case if you eat a diet that’s too high in refined carbohydrates — like white bread, pizza, pastries, and cakes.

Smoking, not exercising, and drinking a lot of alcohol might also increase your levels.

Medical conditions

A number of medical conditions might lead to high triglyceride levels, including:

  • cirrhosis — severe scarring of your liver
  • uncontrolled diabetes
  • an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • kidney disease

Your genetics might also lead to high triglyceride levels — like familial combined hyperlipidemia and familial hypertriglyceridemia.

Sometimes, medications might increase your triglyceride levels. This includes diuretics, retinoids, steroids, beta-blockers, oestrogen, and progesterone.

Measuring your triglyceride levels

You can measure your triglyceride levels with a blood test. Ideally, your triglycerides should be below 1.7 mmol/L. Your triglyceride levels will also usually be measured along with LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol.

How to lower your triglyceride levels

Healthy lifestyle choices can be really effective in lowering your triglyceride levels:

  • Avoid eating too much sugary and refined foods — opt for whole grain carbohydrates instead
  • Choose unsaturated fats — opt for things like olive oil and fatty fish instead of saturated and trans fats
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol — stick to 14 units (about 6 pints of beer or 9 glasses of wine) a week and try to have several alcohol-free days a week
  • Exercise regularly — aim for at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week

In addition to lifestyle changes, your doctor might recommend taking medication to lower your triglyceride levels. This could include statins, fibrates, or niacin.

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Aisling Moran BSc (Hons)

Written by Aisling Moran BSc (Hons)

25th Aug 2021 • 3 min read