Understanding what triglycerides have to do with your heart.
When you hear talk about triglycerides, you may cringe.
After all, it’s not the prettiest word around, and hearing it may make you think of something bad for you. However, triglycerides are a necessary part of good health, as it’s a type of fat that circulates in your blood and is used by your body for energy. However, when your triglycerides are too high, it can put you at risk for heart disease.
What causes high triglycerides and how can they harm your health? What steps can you take to lower them? You’re about to find out.
You Gotta Get Tested
A routine blood test called a lipid panel test measures your triglyceride level along with your total, HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. Get a baseline measurement around age 20, and then have your levels checked every five years until age 40, when you’ll need your levels checked yearly. If you or a family member has a history of heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, have a lipid panel test every two to three years until age 40. If you already have heart disease, you’ll probably need your levels checked every couple months.
Once you undergo your test, compare your results to what’s normal and what’s not.
Optimal: less than 100 mg/dL
Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
Borderline-high: 150–199 mg/dL
High: 200–499 mg/dL
Very high: 500+
Reasons for High Triglycerides
If your test results reveal a higher than normal level of triglycerides, it may be attributed to obesity, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, a regular consumption of too many calories (especially calories from carbs and fat), kidney disease, hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), or excessive alcohol consumption.
Certain prescription drugs can also affect your triglyceride levels. These medications include steroids, beta-blockers, Tamoxifen (a breast cancer drug), diuretics, birth control pills, and estrogen. Though rare, high triglycerides can be genetic. In this case, you may be suffering from fatty deposits located under the skin, a condition known as xanthomas.
Dangers of High Triglycerides
Unless results from a lipid panel test indicate high triglycerides, you probably wouldn’t know your levels are high. With that in mind, you may wonder what the big deal is when it comes to triglycerides. Think of it this way: A measure of your triglycerides is a good measure of the health of your heart. If you have high triglycerides, you may have other issues that put your heart at risk.
For some reason, too many triglycerides lead to the thickening or the hardening of the arteries. When this happens, your likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease increase dramatically.
High triglycerides are also an indication of other health conditions that contribute to heart disease and stroke such as obesity and metabolic syndrome (a combination of health conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, and excess fat around the waist). So paying attention to your triglycerides is vital to your most vital organ!
Lower Your Triglycerides
Have high triglycerides? Don’t ignore the issue or hope it resolves on its own. Instead, take the time to be proactive for the sake of your heart. The good news is that triglycerides respond very well to diet and lifestyle changes, so if you make changes now, you probably won’t have to be on medications the rest of your life.
To effectively lower your levels, lose weight. Shedding even 5 or 10 pounds can make a big difference. Once you’ve lost weight, strive to maintain a healthy weight. Since excess calories are converted into triglycerides and then stored as fat, reduce your calorie intake by limiting fats, sugars, and simple carbohydrates. Eliminate foods with trans fats and avoid the saturated fats found in meats by eating more fatty fish high in omega-3s. For cooking, use olive oil or canola oil. Eating fewer calories will lower your levels and boost your heart health!
No Eating, Please.
Interested in having your triglycerides measured? You’ll have to avoid eating for a bit. For the best test results, your physician will ask you to fast overnight before testing. Eat right before the test and expect to be sent home without undergoing the test. Yes, it’s that important.
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