If you look at your blood report, you will find a parameter called ‘serum triglycerides’. Many don’t pay attention to it, but it is an important parameter that can affect your heart and your vital organs.
I thought I would brief you on triglycerides (TG), how they are produced in the body, foods that increase triglycerides, and how they can be treated.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of bad fat that stores energy in the body. They are made in the body through a process called lipogenesis, which happens mostly in the liver and adipose (fat) tissue.
When we eat, our bodies break the food down into different nutrients, such as carbs, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates are turned into glucose, which is the primary source of energy for the body.
Excess glucose that is not needed for immediate energy is stored in the liver and muscle tissue as glycogen.
When glycogen stores are full, any extra glucose that isn’t needed for immediate energy is turned into triglycerides through a process called ‘de novo lipogenesis’. In this process, the liver turns extra glucose into fatty acids, which are then combined with glycerol to make triglycerides.
Lipoproteins (proteins that carry fat) then carry the triglycerides through the bloodstream to the adipose (fat) tissue, where they are stored until they are needed for energy. Triglycerides can also be broken down and used as energy when the body needs them.
In short, triglycerides are a type of fat that is generated from digested carbohydrates. The more carbohydrates you consume, the higher the triglyceride level in the blood.
That being said, there are people who are genetically prone to develop high triglyceride levels. In other words, the high levels are seen in family members through generations.
Are Triglycerides Bad?
Yes, triglycerides are considered bad cholesterol.
High levels of triglycerides have been linked to heart attacks. In fact, when I treat patients with diabetes, one parameter that I concentrate on is bringing the triglyceride levels down.
I recently had the privilege of discussing the impact of high triglycerides on heart health to some physicians, and discussed some important trials on what impact it has.
In a landmark study called the REDUCE-IT trial, reducing TG levels with a drug called icosapent ethyl reduced the patient’s risk of having a heart attack and stroke.
Similarly, patients who have high TG levels above 500 have been found to have a higher risk of a condition called pancreatitis. This is inflammation of the pancreas and can be life-threatening at times.
Patients with diabetes can often have elevated TG levels. This has to do with a phenomenon called insulin resistance, which is essentially the body’s inability to respond to normal insulin secreted by the pancreas.
What Are The Foods That Increase Triglycerides?
There are many foods that can increase TG levels, and I have listed them in the table below.
The way we eat has changed dramatically over the last decade. With the easy availability of junk foods, celebrity endorsement of oily and fried snacks, and home delivery of restaurant food, the food our great-grandparents used to eat is almost non-existent.
This makes me worry about future generations sometimes.
Other Causes Of High Triglycerides
Other than diet alone, there are numerous other causes of high triglycerides in the bloodstream.
Uncontrolled hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is an important cause. Kidney diseases such as nephrotic syndrome, joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and skin conditions such as psoriasis can cause the levels to increase.
Certain medications such as anabolic steroids, beta-blockers, diuretics, and hormone therapies can also increase triglyceride levels.
How Low Should Triglycerides Be On My Report?
Generally, a value above 200 is considered high. However, when treating higher values, I often target 150 and below.
This comes from guidelines that expert organizations have set.
It is particularly important that patients with diabetes and those who have risk factors for heart disease that the TG levels are lowered as much as possible.
Treating High Triglycerides
It’s all about choices.
The treatment of high triglycerides typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medication, depending on the severity of the condition.
Dietary changes can be effective in reducing high triglyceride levels. In fact, it is the first thing I tell patients who wish to lower triglycerides naturally.
Some of the recommended lifestyle changes include reducing the consumption of sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats, and alcohol.
In brief, some of the foods to avoid include the ones I have listed in the table below.
Eating a diet rich in fiber, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables can help to reduce triglycerides.
Physical activity is also important in reducing triglycerides, with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise recommended most days of the week.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help lower high triglyceride levels. Medications that increase the levels may be changed.
Statins, fibrates, and niacin are commonly used medications that can help to lower triglyceride levels.
In patients with diabetes, Saroglitazar has been shown to lower both high triglycerides and blood sugars as well.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may also be used to lower triglyceride levels, particularly in individuals with high triglycerides due to metabolic disorders. However, the benefit has mostly been seen with a high dose of fish oil, rather than with vegetarian sources of omega-3.
It’s important to note that managing high triglycerides is important in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, it’s important to work with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment based on individual factors like age, overall health, and any underlying medical conditions.