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Does your blood report show high Triglycerides? Why do they matter and what should be done?

Close-up image of a medical lab expert performing a Triglycerides test.
October 2, 2022
by Dr. Karthigesan

Awareness to keep good health is increasing by the year. People are increasingly seeking modern diagnostic methods and procedures and checking their blood, urine, health of inner organs, etc to keep themselves healthy. One such test that is widely used is the Lipid Profile test that profiles the lipid or fat content in the blood. If the levels of triglycerides are higher than the permissible threshold, why do they matter and what should be done? Let us dig further.

What are Triglycerides?

First and foremost, triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in the blood. When we consume food and if the calories from the food are not expended fully, the calories that are not expended are converted into triglycerides. This is especially true for foods that are high in carbs. Such converted triglycerides are stored in our fat cells. The hormones secreted by the body release triglycerides for energy between meals. Hypertriglyceridemia or high triglycerides condition occurs when we eat more calories than we burn.

What are the other types of Lipids found in the blood?

The other types of lipids that show up in the lipid profile test that are measured are LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein), which also will include the types like VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein) and sdLSL (Small Dense Low Density Lipoprotein), and HDL (High Density Lipoprotein).

What is considered normal?

A simple lipid profile test with the blood sample can reveal whether your triglycerides levels are higher. Based on the presence of triglycerides in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) in a given range, the levels are classified as being normal or risky. Here are the classifications.

  • Normal — Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline High — 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • High — 200 to 499 mg/dL
  • Very High — 500 mg/dL or above

A sample of a lipid profile test report is attached above that shows a slightly higher (borderline high) triglyceride level. It should be noted that for a lipid profile test, the patient will be asked to fast for 10-12 hours (generally in an empty stomach in the morning) and then give the blood sample.

The difference between Triglycerides and Cholesterol?

Triglycerides and Cholesterol are simply different types of lipids / fats. They have different functions in the body. While triglycerides store unused calories and provide energy to the body, cholesterol is used to build cells, certain hormones and also help in transporting certain hormones throughout the body.

Why do high levels of Triglycerides matter?

High triglycerides may contribute to hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls, a condition called arteriosclerosis. This condition increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and cardiovascular diseases. Very high levels of triglycerides are associated with liver and pancreas problems. Oftentimes, extremely high triglyceride levels can cause acute inflammation of the pancreas leading to pancreatitis.

Generally, high triglyceride levels show up with other problems, like hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism and obesity, central obesity in particular. Whenever there are high triglyceride levels, the levels of LDL cholesterol is high, and the levels of HDL cholesterol is low. In a way, it is challenging to know which of these two problems are caused by high triglycerides.

Sometimes taking certain medications like retinoids, steroids, beta blockers, some immunosuppressants, HIV medications, etc can cause higher triglyceride levels as side effects.

What’s the best way to lower triglyceride levels?

The best way to lower high triglyceride levels is to change the lifestyle and make healthy choices when it comes to food and drinks.

Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates. Simple sugar and foods made with white flour, food that have fructose or corn syrup in it can increase triglyceride levels.

Pick food with healthier fats. Lean meat like chicken, eggs, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like sardines, mackerels, etc are loaded with healthy fats. Avoid foods that are deep fried as they contain trans fats. It is better to avoid street foods that sell deep fried items as they use the same oil which is high in trans fat. Hydrogenated oils are also bad for health.

Avoid processed and canned foods. Fresh food should always be preferred over processed and canned foods. Since they contain preservatives and other added compounds, they may not be a healthy choice all the time.

Avoid or limit the alcohol you drink. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar. People with very high levels of triglycerides, a condition called hypertriglyceridemia should avoid taking alcohol completely.

The next best thing to do is to make some lifestyle changes and start incorporating physical exercises in your daily routine.

Exercising regularly. A minimum of 40-45 minutes of physical activity on 4-5 days a week is sufficient to keep your body fit. Exercising regularly can lower triglyceride levels and can also boost HDL or the good cholesterol levels. Climbing stairs instead of using a lift, taking a stroll on the terrace, are some of the activities that can boost calorie burning.Losing weight definitely helps. People who are overweight or obese and have high triglyceride levels should lose that extra weight to keep themselves fit. Such people are often found with high triglyceride levels and their focus on cutting calories will definitely help shed weight. It should be noted that extra calories are converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. Hence reducing the calorie intake will ensure reduced triglyceride levels.

How often should the triglyceride levels be tested?

When it emerges from the lipid profile test that you are high in total cholesterol and LDL, and are low in HDL or good cholesterol, the most important thing to do on a regular basis after taking steps to tackling it, is to get regular screenings.

  • If you’re a healthy adult between the age of 21-35, you should get a lipid profile every 4-6 years.
  • If you have crossed 40 or you have high triglyceride levels it is better to get a lipid profile test done once every year.
  • If you are on any diet, like paleo or keto, seek advice from experts or cardiologists to get a lipid profile done in regular intervals.
  • If you are on any medications to reduce the high triglyceride levels, ask your doctor as to when the next screening can be done.
  • Triglycerides are certainly an important measure of your heart health. Hence keeping them under the permissible levels should be part of the health goal.
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