Triglycerides: What It is, Your Body, Why You Should Care

Mar 12 2018

Triglycerides: What It is, Your Body, Why You Should Care

Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood. Oil, margarine, butter, are triglycerides. Your blood absorbs them after you eat. But that’s not the only source. Your body also turns extra calories, especially from “simple carbs” such as pastries, white bread, candy, sugar, and alcohol into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells.




Triglycerides: Good Or Bad For You?

They’re good for you in the right amounts. Your body uses them to transfer and store energy for later use. But too many can raise your risk of heart disease, especially if you already have high levels of  the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.


Triglycerides: The Lipoproteins Are Key

They can’t float around in your blood on their own. So they ride along with certain proteins, called “lipoproteins.” That way, they can move around your body until you store them in fat cells.


Triglycerides: What Are Healthy Levels?

Your doctor will likely test your triglycerides and cholesterol together. They will take a sample of blood, and they may ask you to avoid certain foods or drinks or to stop eating for a half-day or so beforehand, to make the results more accurate. A laboratory will test the blood.


Triglycerides: Measuring Your Lipid Profile

It tells you the levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol, “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, in your blood. Your doctor may plug those numbers into a formula to get a single number that shows “total blood cholesterol.” A high number can raise your risk for heart disease. Age, family history, smoking, and blood pressure, may affect your numbers.


Triglycerides: What Do Test Results Mean?

Check your levels against these numbers, which are based on 12 hours of fasting:

  • Desirable: Less than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
  • Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL (1.7-2.2 mmol/L)
  • High: 200 to 499 mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L)
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL or greater (5.6 mmol/L)


Triglycerides: Are High Numbers Bad?

Not usually. That’s why it’s a good idea to test your lipid levels  on a regular basis. Over time, high levels can be a sign of other conditions that raise the risk for heart disease. They’re also tied to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and thyroid disease.


Triglycerides: High Levels, Take Action


Triglycerides: Diet Is Key

Even though they consist of fat, most are made by your body from extra carbohydrates. Sugary and starchy carbs are the worst type. Seek out “complex” carbs like vegetables and whole grains instead. Cut saturated fats (found mainly in animal products) in favor of “good” fats found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish.


Triglycerides: Control Your Weight

If you’re overweight, lose some of those pounds.  Even 5 to 10 pounds can make a big difference. It may help to focus on benefits like more energy and better health, not just numbers on a scale. And remember that if you overeat, your body turns extra calories into triglycerides and stores them as fat.


Triglycerides: Exercise Is Important

Yes. Aim for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Regular exercise can lower the levels and boost “good” cholesterol. Take a walk, swim laps, or go dancing, anything you enjoy and that gets your heart beating faster will help. Even if you can’t find a 30-minute chunk, you can squeeze it in 10 minutes at a time: A walk at lunch time, pushups while you watch your favorite TV show, a dance party with your kids. Get started.


Triglycerides: Cut The Alcohol

It doesn’t help. It’s high in calories and sugar, which by themselves are bad. And alcohol seems to be bad for triglyceride numbers apart from that. Even small amounts can raise your levels.


Triglycerides: Medications Can Help

Diet, exercise, and weight are all great. If that’s not enough, your doctor may recommend adding meds or supplements. These might include statins, omega-3 supplements, niacin, and a type of drug called fibrates.

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Barry G

Barry graduated from City University of New York and holds a Ph.D. in Physiological Psychology.

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