Triglycerides are one of the types of fats (lipids) transported in the bloodstream. Most of the body’s fat is also stored in the tissues as triglycerides. Triglyceride blood levels are commonly measured along with other lipid levels, such as cholesterol.
Triglycerides are also present in foods like vegetable oils and animal fats. The triglycerides in our blood are a mixture of triglycerides obtained from dietary sources and triglycerides produced by the body as sources of energy.
Elevated triglyceride levels can be caused by a variety of disease processes.
Elevated triglyceride levels are considered to be a risk factor for developing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) because many of the triglyceride-containing lipoproteins that transport fat in the bloodstream also transport cholesterol, a known contributor to atherosclerosis.
Often, elevated triglyceride levels are present along with elevated cholesterol levels. This condition is referred to as a mixed hyperlipidemia.
Triglyceride levels in the blood are measured by a blood test. Fasting for 8 to 12 hours before the test is required, since recent eating and digestion can often cause the results to be temporarily elevated.
Triglycerides can be measured as part of a lipoprotein panel or lipid panel in which cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) are also measured.
Normal Triglyceride Values
According to the U.S. National Cholesterol Education Program, the guidelines for interpreting triglyceride levels are as follows:
- Normal: Borderline to high: 150-199 mg/dl
- High: 200-499 mg/dl
- Very high: ≥500 mg/dl
How can I lower my triglyceride levels?
Returning triglyceride levels to normal may decrease the risk of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Controlling high triglycerides and high cholesterol is a lifelong challenge. A healthy lifestyle includes eating well, exercising routinely, smoking cessation, and weight loss.
This may be all that is needed, but some people additionally require medications to lower triglyceride levels in the blood. Your health-care professional will help make decisions with you to decide what treatment combination is most appropriate.
Causes of Abnormal Triglyceride Levels
An elevated level of triglycerides in the blood is medically known as hypertriglyceridemia. Diseases that can lead to elevation of triglyceride levels include:
- Poorly-controlled diabetes
- Kidney disease
- Liver diseases including cirrhosis
- Some medications (for example, birth control pills, estrogens, beta-blockers, immunosuppressive medications), and
- Familial (genetic) disorders of lipid metabolism.
Changes in diet
The following dietary changes may be helpful in lowering triglycerides.
- Decreasing your intake of sugar: If you have a sweet tooth, try to set limits on how often and how much sugar you consume. You can cut your intake in half to begin with, and continue cutting back from there. Remember to read the labels to check for sugar content in both food and beverages.
- Changing from white to brown: If you eat white rice, bread, and pasta, switch to whole wheat products. It may take a little while to get used to the difference in taste, but it’s worth the effort for the benefits to your health.
- There are a variety of whole wheat products on the market, so experiment until you find the one that you like best.
- Switching fats: Limit or avoid foods with saturated and trans fats. These include fried foods, lard, butter, whole milk, ice cream, commercial baked goods, meats, and cheese. Read the nutrition labels to determine whether these unhealthy fats are present.
- Switch to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead of trans or saturated fats. The best sources of these fats are olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout, sardines, herring, and albacore tuna. Learning to interpret food labels will help you understand the kinds of fat in the food you buy and consume.