You’re probably decently familiar with “good” and “bad” cholesterol, or at least you know that your cholesterol levels are some of the first things your doctor will evaluate if you’re looking to manage your heart and metabolic health. But there’s another biomarker in your lipid panel tests that you should be keeping tabs on if you want to get a full picture of your cardiovascular and metabolic health: your triglyceride levels. Here’s what those triglyceride levels can indicate, and how you can take control of them to promote better overall health.

How (and why) to lower your triglycerides

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What are triglycerides?

Very simply put, triglycerides are a kind of fat. They’re found in your body and circulating in your blood. Your triglyceride levels can depend, at least in part, on the kind of diet you’re eating. If you consume more calories than your body uses, your body has methods of storing those extra energy units for later use. It converts them into triglycerides, which are also known as lipids. Then, those triglycerides are transported and stored in fat cells (aka your body fat). Your triglyceride levels can also change depending on the types and amounts of nutrients that you eat.

Why managing your triglyceride levels is important

In a blood test result, normal, healthy triglyceride levels will fall at or beneath 150 mg/dL. If you have high triglyceride levels, or hypertriglyceridemia, your blood test might show your triglycerides as measuring at 200 mg/dL and above. When evaluated in conjunction with other biomarkers, this elevated biomarker can be a red flag for your risk of developing serious health issues down the line if left unaddressed.

It can be a predictor of metabolic conditions.

Having high triglyceride levels and low levels of the “good cholesterol” HDL could be an indicator of insulin resistance, a condition in which your cells no longer respond appropriately to the insulin hormone that manages your carbohydrate metabolism. Unfortunately, this means that high triglyceride levels of over 150 mg/dL are one of the markers for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of metabolic disorders and conditions that also include issues like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess fat storage around your middle. If you have metabolic syndrome, you may be more at risk for developing metabolic-driven conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

It’s a predictor of your heart health.

Researchers are currently conflicted as to whether high triglyceride levels on their own can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, your triglyceride levels are very closely tied to other biomarkers like cholesterol and insulin sensitivity, which do have positive associations with cardiovascular issues. For example, triglycerides are carried to your fat cells by very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), a kind of cholesterol. If you have high triglyceride levels, your body has to make more VLDL as a consequence, contributing to your overall cholesterol.

High triglyceride levels are also often a consequence of other lifestyle factors that affect your heart health like poor-quality dietary patterns, alcohol overconsumption, and low activity levels. So when evaluated in conjunction with LDL, HDL, total cholesterol levels, and other relevant biomarkers, having high triglycerides can be a key indicator of your risk of developing cardiovascular complications. The good news: many of the interventions that help lower triglycerides (more on that in a moment) also help improve cholesterol levels!

It might be a sign that there’s something wrong with your liver.

High triglycerides levels are also strongly associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a chronic condition in which your liver stores too many fat cells. As the name suggests, this type of chronic liver disease doesn’t require alcohol abuse to develop, but it can have the same consequences as alcoholic fatty liver: scarring of liver tissues and, ultimately, liver failure.

It’s a major cause of pancreas issues.

Your pancreas, which is an organ that helps your body metabolize foods and controls your blood sugar, is also affected by high triglyceride levels. At very high levels of hypertriglyceridemia, you can increase your risk for acute pancreatitis, a condition where your pancreas becomes extremely painful and inflamed.

Monitor and improve your triglyceride levels with Base

So high triglyceride levels are bad. But how do you know if you’re dealing with it?

Like cholesterol, high triglyceride levels don’t always come with any overt signs or symptoms. So, like cholesterol, you need to be proactive and monitor those levels with a blood test to have better insights into what’s going on on a cellular level inside of your body. Base Diet Testing includes lipid panel testing, which shows you both your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This can give you an accurate snapshot of what’s going on inside of your arteries, which can then help you make your next move towards better heart health.

How to lower your triglycerides

If your blood tests do come back showing high triglyceride levels, here are some things you can do to start addressing and fixing them right away.

Keep an eye on your weight.

Obesity is strongly associated with dyslipidemia, or an abnormality in the levels of fat in your body including cholesterol and triglycerides. Eating more calories than you need or use means that your body converts that excess energy into triglycerides. When you have high body fat, you can also deal with more inflammation. But luckily, researchers have found that losing just 5-10% of your body weight can come with major improvements in your triglyceride and cholesterol levels in high-risk patients and overweight and obese adults!

Pay special attention to your carbohydrates.

Excess carbohydrate intake seems to be an especially pertinent dietary issue that can lead to high triglyceride levels. In fact, if you’re getting more than 55% of your calories from carbohydrates, your triglyceride levels can rise in what is appropriately referred to as “carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia.” To mitigate this phenomenon, you can try increasing your protein and dietary fat intake ratio. Carbohydrate quality also matters since high intakes of simple sugars are especially likely to raise your triglycerides. Focus on getting most of your carbohydrates from starchy, complex sources like whole grains and fibrous fruit and veggies, rather than simple sugars.

Quit smoking.

You might already know that smoking is a bad habit for your heart since it can damage your blood vessels and negatively affect your cholesterol levels. It’s also bad news for your triglycerides: a large study on 1152 Japanese males found that a significantly greater amount of current smokers had high triglyceride levels versus both former smokers and non-smokers.

Cut down on the alcohol.

Frequent alcohol overconsumption is another risk factor for your triglyceride levels. Alcohol is broken down into triglycerides and other fatty particles by the liver, and hypertriglycedemia can follow and contribute to fatty liver diseases. Overindulging in alcohol also means consuming more calories, which can also contribute to triglyceride production. If you find yourself drinking alcohol more than one or two drinks a day, it might be a good idea to cut back to more moderate portions. But make sure to talk to your doctor about this, because it might be safer to cut out alcohol altogether if your triglyceride levels are especially high.

Eat more omega-3s.

Counterintuitive though it might sound, eating more dietary fat can actually be pretty helpful for managing your triglyceride and cholesterol levels — you just want to make sure it’s a healthy kind of fat. DHA and EPA, the kind of anti-inflammatory omega-3s found in marine sources like fatty fish and microalgae oil, are both good choice for managing your high triglyceride levels. In fact, research by the American Heart Association has concluded that taking roughly 3-4 grams of combined EPA and DHA is effective for reducing high triglyceride levels! In addition to omega-3 supplements, you can also increase your intake with cold-water oily fish like salmon and with plant-based foods like olive oil, walnuts, and chia seeds.

Managing triglycerides ultimately means managing your health.

Your triglyceride levels are some of many biomarkers that can help you understand and manage your current health status. When evaluated in conjunction with your cholesterol and insulin hormones, knowing your triglyceride levels takes your personal and professional healthcare strategy to the next level. By taking regular blood tests like the Base Diet Test, you’ll have a better understanding of your triglycerides, cholesterol, and other factors that affect your heart health.


CONCERNED ABOUT TRIGLYCERIDES?

Take our quiz to build a bespoke testing plan that will help you monitor and improve triglycerides and cholesterol.


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