What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of lipid which make up most of the fat found in meats, dairy, cooking oils and your body. Biologically, triglycerides are used for one of two purposes, either directly as energy or for storage of surplus energy as fat. When you think about excess weight, you are essentially talking about a build-up of triglycerides. Triglycerides can be obtained from your diet, or they can be manufactured in your liver from excess calories.
High triglycerides are associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke. They are also inversely associated with HDL (or ‘good’) cholesterol levels. Knowing your triglyceride levels is therefore as important as measuring cholesterol.
Why measure triglycerides?
High triglyceride levels are associated with cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. They are also associated with lower HDL cholesterol and increasingly damaging LDL cholesterol. As with cholesterol, a high triglyceride level only has symptoms once it has caused disease. Testing is therefore the only way to know if you should work at lowering yours. Excess triglyceride is also associated with the presence of a number of other disorders, including diabetes, obesity, liver and kidney disease, thyroid problems and Metabolic Syndrome. Early testing of triglyceride levels is therefore essential to effective management of your health.
How are triglyceride levels tested?
Preliminary screening for cholesterol abnormalities can be done in a point-of care clinic environment using a finger prick blood sample, which measures total cholesterol. Select clinics now also offer lipogram screenings which measures the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides. Although total cholesterol can give you an indication of your risk, a full lipogram is important to accurately test your cardiovascular disease risk and plan an effective intervention strategy. While it is usually required that you fast for 9 hours before doing the test, recent research has suggested that this is not actually necessary.
What do the numbers mean?
Higher levels of triglyceride have been associated with a greater risk of adverse health effects, especially those associated with the Metabolic Syndrome. Understanding your triglyceride levels, and interpreting them together with cholesterol measurements and your other risk factors is paramount to ensuring long-term health. This is a process that should be undertaken together with your doctor.
Triglycerides are measured in millimole per litre of blood (mmol/L). The numbers can be interpreted as follows:
- Normal (therapeutic goal) – Less than 1.6 mmol/L. If your triglyceride levels are in this range, you are considered normal. You should aim to get your triglycerides as close to this, and even below, if possible.
- Raised – 1.7 to 2.2 mmol/L. Lifestyle changes should be implemented.
- High – 2.3 to 5.5 mmol/L. Adopt lifestyle changes urgently. Medication may be required.
- Very high – 5.6 mmol/L or above. Lifestyle changes should be implemented immediately. Medication will be required.
How can I improve my triglyceride levels?
The primary method for correcting abnormally high triglyceride levels is lifestyle intervention. Much of the advice overlaps with that prescribed for other conditions associated with Metabolic Syndrome, especially high cholesterol and cardiovascular health. Through following the tips below, therefore, you will not only be actively lowering your triglycerides and improving your heart health, but bettering your health overall.
As with other aspects of general health, it is never too soon to begin practising a healthy lifestyle. Even if your triglycerides are normal, you can lower them further, reduce your risk factors for disease and increase your quality of life, both now and in the future.
If you are required to take medication, making sure to still implement lifestyle changes will further improve your health as well as keep your medication dose low.
Some ways to specifically reduce triglycerides are:
- Ensuring you generally eat only as much food as you use for energy. Any extra will be immediately converted to triglyceride and stored as fat.
- Losing weight. Fat is itself an accumulation of triglycerides, and can signal to your body to produce more.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke affects lipid levels and makes them more likely to cause damage to your arteries.
- Restrict carbohydrates, especially heavily processed, high energy sources. These are easily converted to fat and contribute to an array of diseases and disorders.
- Restrict saturated fat, the major dietary source of damaging triglycerides. This will involve a reduction in the consumption of animal products.
- Increase your consumption of fish, nuts and seeds that contain omega-3 fatty acids and other healthier, monounsaturated oils.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol is high in calories and has a particularly serious effect on triglyceride levels.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise will use up extra energy and fat as well as improve lipid profiles.
- Take a supplement aimed at improving heart health and optimising cholesterol levels.
MNI places emphasis on assisting you with living a better lifestyle and therefore we developed lifestyle support tools:
- For more information on how to follow a healthy diet, download our free C.A.P.E Meal Plan (your insulin-friendly meal plan) here.
- You can also begin exercising by adopting one of our exercise plans. Download your free copy here.
- For further assistance, try our range of products include unique blends of ingredients that work synergistically together to help improve your health outcome. Read more here.