Triglycerides are a type of fat present in the blood, and high levels can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) present in the body that serves as an important source of energy. They are formed when the body converts excess calories, mainly from carbohydrates and fats, into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells (adipose tissue).
The main role of triglycerides is to provide the body with energy. When you need extra energy, triglycerides are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol, which are released into the bloodstream and provide fuel for muscles and other tissues.
Triglycerides are also influenced by diet and lifestyle. Excessive consumption of calories, especially from carbohydrates and fats, can lead to increased blood triglyceride levels. A high level of triglycerides in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia) may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease.
Normal blood triglyceride values vary depending on factors such as age, gender and an individual’s medical history. In general, normal triglyceride levels are considered to be below 150 mg/dL (milligrams per decilitre).
In addition to dietary factors, there are other factors that can influence triglyceride levels, such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, diabetes and certain genetic conditions.
High blood triglyceride levels (hypertriglyceridaemia) can increase the risk of developing several conditions and health problems, including:
High triglycerides are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes. They can contribute to the formation of atheromatous plaques in blood vessels, narrowing them and affecting normal blood flow.
Very high triglyceride levels can increase the risk of pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. In acute pancreatitis, high triglyceride levels can cause severe symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fever.
Hypertriglyceridemia can contribute to the development of fatty liver (hepatic steatosis), a condition characterized by excessive accumulation of fat in liver cells. Over time, it can progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more serious form of liver disease, and even liver cirrhosis.
Type 2 diabetes:
High triglyceride levels are often associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This means that the body has difficulty in efficiently using insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels.
High triglycerides can also be associated with other health problems, such as high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
Here are five ways to help:
- Eat a healthy diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean proteins such as fish and legumes. Avoid processed foods high in sugar and trans fats. Reduce consumption of refined carbohydrates and foods high in saturated fats.
- Lower sugar and simple carbohydrate intake: Excessive consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates (such as those found in sweetened drinks, sweets and pastries) can lead to increased triglyceride levels. Try to limit your intake of these foods and choose healthier alternatives, such as fresh fruit.
- Be physically active: Regular exercise can help reduce triglyceride levels. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 times a week. Choose activities such as brisk walking, running, swimming or cycling.
- Cut down on alcohol or limit consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase triglyceride levels. If you drink alcohol, try to limit the amount and have days when you don’t drink alcohol at all. Always consult your doctor before making changes to your alcohol consumption, especially if you have a liver condition or other medical conditions.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase triglyceride levels. If necessary, try to lose weight through a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise.