Many authorities advise more aggressive treatment of
high triglycerides. Here is a rundown on these blood fats and why optimizing them is important for your health.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are the major fats in foods. They have a backbone consisting of a glycerol molecule to which three fatty acid molecules are attached. All glycerol molecules are the same, but the fatty acids may vary greatly. The types of fatty acids that are attached to the triglyceride determine whether it is a saturated, trans, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fat.
When you eat any type of fat, it passes through your stomach and is digested and absorbed in your small intestines. From there it is sent to your liver for processing and shipping throughout your body. Your body can also make triglycerides from excess carbohydrates.
The liver packages fat into very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs), which are molecules made of protein and fat, but are mainly composed of triglycerides.
Next, VLDLs travel through your bloodstream to unload fat, depositing most of the triglycerides in fat cells for storage. Once unloaded, the VLDLs become low-density lipoproteins (LDLs)—mainly made of "bad" cholesterol, which in excess can cause arterial plaque.
Another type of blood fat called high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good" cholesterol) takes your body's unwanted cholesterol back to the liver where it is excreted or used to make more VLDLs.
Importance for Health
Having too much triglyceride in your blood—usually attached to a VLDL molecule—can adversely affect your health in several ways. Extremely high triglyceride levels can trigger an attack of
pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, an abdominal organ that secretes digestive enzymes.
Treatment for abnormal triglyceride levels usually involves lifestyle changes. The American Heart Association recommends a diet that is
low in saturated fat.
Most saturated fat should be replaced with healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Increasing your intake of
omega-3 fatty acids
is especially important. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout, and tuna) and certain plant sources, including flax seeds, canola oil, and walnut oil.
Taking fish oil capsules can also help lower triglyceride levels.
Weight loss—often as little as 5-10 pounds—also helps lower your triglyceride levels, as can limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and getting regular, moderate exercise. If you are already at risk for heart disease, talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
When lifestyle measures fail to control triglyceride levels, your doctor may recommend lowering your triglycerides with the help of medicine. Drug treatment may also be advised if you have diabetes or another chronic disease associated with coronary artery disease.
In addition to fish oil capsules, medicines such as nicotinic acid, resins, fibric acid, or statins can be used to help optimize your triglycerides.
Executive Summary of the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III).
Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2002. National Academies Press website. Available at:
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309085373. Accessed February 26, 2008.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a