What are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. After eating, any calories that are not immediately required are converted into glycogen (short-term storage of carbohydrates). Any calories over and above that may be converted into triglycerides which are stored in the liver or fat cells. If you need extra energy between meals, your hormones will trigger a release of triglycerides, however if more is stored than used, triglyceride levels will be elevated (hypertriglyceridemia).
Hypertriglyceridemia is the most common form of dyslipidemia (i.e., abnormal levels of fats--lipids—in the blood) observed in the general population. In fact, 30% of the general population have elevated triglycerides.
High levels of triglycerides are one of five risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. Other risk factors include increased waist size, low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol), hypertension, and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). If you have three of those risk factors or more, you meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome.
What is so bad about High Triglyceride Levels?
High triglycerides increase the risk of:
- heart disease
- alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
What are Causes of High Triglyceride Levels?
Genetics are a primary cause of high triglycerides levels. According to an article in the British Medical Journal, some secondary causes include lifestyle factors such as:
- Chronic, excess alcohol consumption
- High saturated fat intake
- High refined sugar intake
- Excess caloric consumption
- Decreased physical activity
Medical conditions can also cause high triglyceride levels, such as:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Uncontrolled diabetes mellitus
How High is High?
According to the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, classification of hypertriglyceridemia is determined by the following lab values:
<150 mg/dL (<1.7)
150-199 mg/dL (1.7-–2.3)
200-499 mg/dL (2.3-5.6)
≥500 mg/dL (≥5.6)
What is the treatment for High Triglyceride Levels?
Treatment for elevated triglyceride levels involve eliminating the secondary lifestyle causes (e.g., diet and exercise) and managing underlying medical conditions (e.g., better glucose control in diabetes). While prescription drugs may be required, two supplements that may help include omega-3 fatty acids and niacin.
Like other risk factors for metabolic syndrome, there is much we can do to return triglycerides to a normal level.