Triglycerides, the fats in the blood, are an important source of energy. However, triglyceride levels can be too high, and this can increase an individual's risk for heart attack, stroke, and other serious problems. Because high triglycerides do not create any warning signs, it's important to be proactive about your health, especially if you are at risk for this condition.
How do high triglycerides affect the body?
Doctors have noted a link between high levels of triglycerides and an increased risk for heart disease. This is not necessarily a direct link, because triglycerides are not the cause of the plaque that leads to heart disease or stroke. But they do contribute, as the particles that contain the fats can add to plaque formation, because they contain cholesterol.
That said, high levels of triglycerides are often connected with other risk factors. Metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of risk factors for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes, includes high levels of triglycerides as one of its factors.
So, do the triglycerides actually affect the body? The answer is yes. People whose levels are very high are at risk for pancreatitis. This inflammation of the pancreas can lead to digestive complaints and stomach pain and, eventually, cause diabetes.
Who is at risk?
In most people, triglyceride levels increase with age. Other risks include:
- Unhealthy lifestyle factors, like weight or sedentary lifestyle
- Medications, like estrogen or beta-blockers, linked to the condition
- Other medical conditions, like Type 2 diabetes
Because this condition causes no noticeable symptoms, the best way to test your levels is with a lipid panel blood test. This is recommended every five years for most adults and more often for those in high-risk categories.
How to lower triglycerides?
Because of the risk they represent, if you have high levels of triglycerides, then you need to find ways to lower triglycerides in your body. Your goal should be to lower triglycerides to a level below 1,000 mg/dL to reduce your risk of pancreatitis and other conditions.
The first step is to make lifestyle changes to improve your health. More exercise and a diet that is low in saturated fats and sugars will help. Your doctor will help you adjust your diet as you work to lower your triglyceride levels.
Next, you may need to take medications to help. Medications include fibrates, niacin, or omega-3 fatty acids. Sometimes a statin, a drug used to lower LDL cholesterol levels, can help decrease triglycerides.
While medications can help and are sometimes needed, lifestyle changes are always the healthier way to treat triglyceride problems. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of medications and the way you can change your lifestyle to support healthier triglyceride levels. In the end, you will improve many areas of your life, from your weight to your cholesterol levels, with this attention to your lifestyle choices.