Triglycerides (TG) are the chemical form in which most fats exist in food and in our bodies. They are derived from fats eaten in food or made in the body from other energy sources such as carbohydrates. The calories which are not used from a meal are converted to TG and transported to the fat tissues for storage.
High TG may contribute to the blockage of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and this increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and other heart diseases. High TG may also be associated with the presence of other conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes; conditions that elevate the risk of heart disease.
Understand the values
TG values are expressed as either milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL) or millimoles per litre (mmol/L). Below is the interpretation of the readings (according to the American Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel’s guideline on fasting blood TG):
- Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL (1.70 mmol/L)
- Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL (1.70-2.25 mmol/L)
- High: 200-499 mg/dL (2.26-5.63 mmol/L)
Testing for TG is usually done with a cholesterol test, also known as a lipid profile test. Total cholesterol (TC), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and high-density cholesterol (HDL-C) are the other three parameters which are obtained from the test.
There are “good” and “bad” cholesterols: HDL-C is the “good” cholesterol while LDL-C is the “bad” one. High HDL-C value with low LDL-C and TC values are desirable.
Increased TG is likely due to a sedentary lifestyle and a diet that is rich in calories or fats. This translates to more calorie input and less calorie output that results in an accumulation of calories in our bodies. Hence, the most effective method of TG reduction is through lifestyle modifications. This includes eating less fatty and oily foods, and exercising more regularly (about 30 minutes five times a week). If a person is a smoker, quitting smoking helps plunge the risk of heart disease.
Medication and supplements to lower TG
When lifestyle modifications are not adequate to lower TG, your doctor may recommend medication to further decrease your TG. These medications may include:
Fibrates - The fibrates decrease TG by increasing the elimination of TG. However, they may cause mild stomach irritation and in rare cases, liver problems.
Statins - The statins mainly inhibit the production of cholesterol. It reduces triglyceride to a lesser extent. These medicines may cause muscle aches and in rare cases, liver problems.
Niacin - Niacin increases the elimination of TG, decreases the production of TG, and increases HDL-C. It may cause gastric irritation and flushing.
In addition to medication, your doctor may recommend taking the following supplements to lower your TG:
Omega-3 - The benefits of omega-3, which is found in fish oil (animal source) or flaxseed oil (plant source), are numerous, and they include lowering of TG, improvement of heart function, and reduction of dry eye symptoms.
Red yeast rice extract - Red yeast rice contains the naturally occurring form of lovastatin (a type of statin) and may be effective in lowering cholesterol values. Nonetheless, because it is a statin, do check with a pharmacist if it will be appropriate for you if you have any concurrent medical condition or are taking any other medication.
High triglycerides may lead to fatal heart diseases but it can be managed through diet, exercise, medication and supplements. Regular screening with a lipid profile test is recommended for early detection of high TG levels. You can take care of your health!