What Are Triglycerides?

We hear all the time – from doctors, health experts and even from commercials – that it’s important to keep our cholesterol down. However, many people still don’t know what their cholesterol test results mean after receiving them from the doctor’s office. For example, what are triglycerides and what do they have to do with cholesterol? This article will shine some light on the subject and provide information to help you understand your cholesterol test results.

What Are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Some of your triglycerides are actually made in the body. However, triglycerides can also come from the foods you eat. These triglycerides are formed from the unused carbohydrate calories you consume that aren’t utilized for immediate energy. The triglycerides from these calories are stored in your fat cells for later use.

The level of triglycerides in your body is mostly affected by hereditary factors. However, the following lifestyle choices and conditions may also increase triglyceride levels:

  • Eating high cholesterol foods and foods loaded with saturated fat
  • Using drugs like retinoid, protease inhibitors, estrogen, corticosteroids, thiazide diuretics, and beta-blockers
  • Drinking alcohol chronically or excessively
  • Being obese
  • Having certain disorders, such as kidney disease, hypothyroidism or diabetes mellitus

How Triglycerides Affect Cholesterol

Triglycerides are an important part of your overall lipoprotein profile, which includes cholesterol levels. When levels of triglycerides are high or low on their own, it can signal certain health problems. However, high triglycerides and high cholesterol combined can exacerbate heart problems. For example, high triglyceride levels combined with low HDL or high LDL cholesterol levels can speed up the buildup of fatty deposits on your artery walls to create a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Your cholesterol, including separate numbers for your total cholesterol (LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol), and triglyceride levels can be measured in a fasting lipoprotein profile. This is a cholesterol exam in the form of a blood test completed after a 9-12 hour fast without any foods, liquids or pills. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that all adults age 20 and older receive a fasting lipoprotein profile once every five years.

Evaluating Your Cholesterol Results

Though normal triglyceride levels can vary slightly based on age and sex, there are some basic guidelines for determining whether your triglycerides are too high. The following are the basic triglyceride level guidelines according to the American Heart Association (mg/dL = milligrams per deciliter):

  • Normal                        150 mg/dL and below
  • Borderline high             150-199 mg/dL
  • High                            200-499 mg/dL
  • Very high                     500 mg/dL and above

It’s important to remember that high triglyceride levels and high cholesterol levels can be an especially dangerous combination for your heart health. The following are the desired cholesterol numbers for most individuals getting a lipoprotein test:

  • LDL cholesterol             130 mg/dL or lower
  • HDL cholesterol             40-60 mg/dL or higher
  • Total cholesterol           200 mg/dL or lower

From these results, doctors can often determine your risk for certain heart problems, which increases when both triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels are high, or they may be able to figure out if you are suffering from a certain health condition.

High triglyceride levels may indicate one of the following health issues:

  • Poor diet
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Familial hyperlipoproteinemia

Meanwhile, low triglyceride levels may be a sign of one of these health problems:

Reducing Your Triglyceride And Cholesterol Levels

There are plenty of ways to prevent and treat high& triglyceride and cholesterol levels, the most important of which are diet and exercise. Maintaining a healthy weight is key, and it’s also important to eat a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol. In addition, drink alcohol in moderation, don’t smoke and seek treatment for any underlying disorders (such as diabetes or hypothyroidism).

Keep in mind that your triglyceride and cholesterol levels are partly determined by hereditary factors, so in some cases you may need to take medications or try other treatments to bring down your levels. If you are at a risk for high triglyceride and cholesterol levels based on health or hereditary factors, ask your doctor about ways to keep your levels down and the possibility of getting your levels checked more often than every five years.

High triglyceride levels don’t have a direct impact on your cholesterol levels, but the two are very closely related. Having high levels of both cholesterol and triglycerides can be particularly damaging to your heart health, which is why it’s so important to take steps to improve your levels.

In addition, be proactive in talking to your doctor about getting your blood taken in order to test your triglyceride and cholesterol levels and inform them of any hereditary cholesterol or heart issues. In most cases, lifestyle changes and/or medications can keep your cholesterol or triglyceride levels under control.

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