This article is Medically Approved ✓ by Dr. Edward Salko
Before we start to worry about high triglycerides in a blood test, let’s get a few facts right. We’ll start by answering the question: what are triglycerides? They’re also called lipids and are the most common type of fat found in the blood.
All the fat that we consume in our diet gets stored as triglycerides. The excess carbs that go into our system also get converted into and stored as triglycerides. All that extra white fat that we carry around our bellies, thighs, arms, and hips is nothing but triglycerides. While you might think that excess fat is unhealthy, some levels of triglycerides in the blood are not only normal but also necessary.
The body uses triglycerides as a form of energy when it has used up all its glucose reserves. It’s when the level of triglycerides goes beyond a certain point that there’s cause for concern. The fat stored in our tissues is not an immediate concern but can become a problem when it keeps increasing at an unhealthy rate.
What Causes High Triglyceride Levels in Blood?
The normal level of triglycerides in the blood is less than 150mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). 150-199mg/dL lies at the borderline, and 200-499mg/dL is considered high. Anything above 500mg/dL is dangerous and associated with a host of health problems.
Increased levels of triglycerides have several causes, including:
- Kidney disease
- Excess alcohol
- Certain types of medicines
- Hereditary causes
Diet: A diet that’s rich in saturated fats can cause the blood’s triglyceride levels to go up. Saturated fats are present in fatty red meats, lard, cream, butter, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products. High-sugar foods can also cause increased concentrations of triglycerides in the blood. If you’re at risk, it’s advisable to not only avoid fatty and sugary foods but also starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes.
It’s also necessary to limit fruit intake for borderline triglyceride levels since they’re high in natural sugars. Another hidden source of excess fat is canned foods that contain fish or other items packed in oil. Unfortunately, some foods that seem healthy, like coconut, are rich in saturated fat and should be limited or avoided.
Obesity: A high correlation has been found between obesity and elevated triglyceride levels. Obesity causes an increased amount of free fatty acids to be sent to the liver, which in turn converts these fatty acids to triglycerides. Obesity also affects the metabolism of triglycerides. So not only are the levels in the blood higher than normal, but it also takes the body a lot longer to break down these triglycerides and use them as a source of energy. The combination of overproduction and underuse causes triglyceride levels to keep rising.
Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome are both linked to increased levels of triglycerides. Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes causes glucose levels in the blood to spike. The excess glucose in the blood is stored in the liver, in the form of glycogen. As glycogen stores go up, it eventually gets converted to fatty acids and, consequently, triglycerides.
Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism affects metabolism and slows hormone production. This results in triglycerides not being used as energy and remaining in the blood, thereby causing the levels to rise.
Kidney disease: People who suffer from kidney disease are at a high risk of increased triglycerides.
Excess alcohol: An excessive consumption of alcohol increases the amount of triglycerides in the blood. Moreover, chronic alcoholism can impair all bodily functions, including the metabolism of triglycerides. Both these factors cause a drastic rise in blood triglyceride.
Certain types of medicines: Medicines like hormonal birth control pills, beta blockers, diuretics, Tamoxifen, protease inhibitors, and others can all contribute to higher triglyceride levels.
Hereditary causes: Some people are predisposed to increased blood triglycerides because of their genetics. If there’s a family history of the problem, individuals should get themselves checked with a triglycerides blood test that will reveal their level of triglycerides.
Should You Worry If a Blood Test for Triglycerides Is High?
High triglycerides can cause a number of problems and have been linked to heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. They can also cause a hardening of the arteries and a thickening of the walls of the arteries. This results in an obstruction to blood flow, which heightens the risk of the three diseases.
When triglyceride levels go too high, they can also cause inflammation in the liver and pancreas, leading to disease in these organs. High triglyceride levels have been found to occur along with higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. High blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity all seem to occur along with increased blood triglycerides.
Because increased triglyceride concentrations could be an indicator that there are other problems, it could also mean that the individual is at a significant risk of heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke. However, it has been found in a few cases where only triglycerides were high, with everything else normal, that such people were not vulnerable to any of these diseases. This could mean that a combination of high triglyceride levels and other factors is what actually puts people in danger.
For this reason, if a blood test for triglycerides is high, it’s important that the person is also checked for their blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol. Just too much triglyceride by itself arising from a genetic predisposition might not be a cause for concern.
Can You Control Your Triglyceride Levels?
The good news for people with high blood triglyceride levels is that with the right lifestyle modifications, it can certainly be controlled. And efforts made to reduce triglycerides in the blood also help to control other, associated issues, like high LDL cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and more.
These are some ways that triglyceride levels in the blood can be reduced:
- Watch what you eat: Cutting out sugars, refined carbs, and foods containing saturated fat can contribute to reduced triglyceride levels. But as mentioned earlier, triglycerides are required by the body as a form of energy. This is why unhealthy fats should be supplemented with healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados, salmon, and mackerel. When choosing what fats to eat, trans fats found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and margarine should be avoided at all costs.
- Exercise: This is always a good way to lower your blood triglyceride levels. Thirty minutes of any sort of workout at least three times a week can significantly bring the levels down. Along with one dedicated form of exercise, try to be more active during the day. Walk wherever and whenever possible, opt for a dance class, or take the dog out daily to get a bit more exercise. Physical activity also decreases LDL cholesterol, thereby offering a dual benefit.
- Weight control: Overweight and obese individuals who have high triglyceride levels need to seriously consider a weight-loss program. If you’re one of them, talk to your doctor to know what you can get started with and what diets and exercise are safe and sustainable for you. If you’re getting started on a weight-loss program for the first time, it’s better to work with a qualified professional who has a good track record. Don’t submit to fad diets and an unsupervised exercise routine, especially if it’s your first time.
Your diet and exercise routine should be planned and tailor-made to suit you. Height, weight, gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, medical history, and other factors have to be taken into consideration before your weight-loss program can be designed. Losing weight needs to be a healthy activity for it to work and for you to enjoy its full benefits.
- Reduce alcohol: If your triglyceride level is something to worry about, you will need to cut down on alcohol consumption. Based on your levels and the amount of alcohol you consume, your doctor will recommend that you either reduce your intake or stop drinking altogether.
- Medication: Several medications and supplements can help reduce triglycerides, such as statins, fibrates, niacin, and fish oil. But any medication must be saved as a last resort and only taken if prescribed by your doctor. Some of these drugs are available over the counter, but it’s not advisable to self-medicate.
Personalabs: A Quality Triglycerides Blood Test
If you need to get your blood triglyceride levels checked but don’t have a doctor’s order, you can simply contact us at Personalabs. We conduct a wide number of blood tests, including triglycerides blood tests, using state-of-the-art equipment. Our results are highly accurate and 100% confidential.
You can choose what to do when you get your blood test results. We also have a doctor’s consultancy service where you can talk to one of our doctors without having to leave home. You can also use our handy symptom checker to get more details about various conditions.