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How to lower your triglycerides


Story at-a-glance -

  • Triglycerides are the most common type of body fat, and are produced in your liver, or come from foods you eat and excess calories
  • Triglyceride levels that are borderline high (150 to 199 mg/dL or 1.8 to 2.2 mmol/L) can be alarming and should be discussed with your doctor
  • Factors like obesity, unhealthy foods and existing medical conditions may predispose you to high triglyceride levels
  • You may curb high triglyceride levels by making positive lifestyle changes, such as exercising more often and consuming health-boosting foods

There are many types of lipids that have been discovered,1 but one that has amassed interest is triglycerides. Although they act as energy reservoirs,2 there are some health issues that may develop if your triglyceride levels are too high.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are glycerol molecules found in your blood, with three fatty acids bound to them,3 and are considered the most common type of body fat.4 Also called triacylglycerols, they’re made in your liver,5 although they can be derived from food sources like butter, oils and other fatty items.6 Excess calories, alcohol,7 carbohydrates and simple sugars8,9 that you consume are transformed into triglycerides and kept in your fat cells or liver10 so they can be utilized as energy in the future.11

Triglycerides can be divided into two types. According to The Journal of Nutrition, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have six to 12 carbon fatty acids, while long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) have more than a dozen carbon fatty acids.12

Between these two, MCTs have been heralded for their potential benefits. They’re synthetically produced or derived from coconut oil and dairy fat, and typically don’t need to attach themselves to proteins.13 Because of this ability, MCTs may be absorbed in your bloodstream and transferred to the liver immediately,14 and help promote weight loss without adverse effects.15

What causes high triglyceride levels?

Conventional medicine has led many to believe that increased fat intake is a precursor for high triglyceride levels16 or hypertriglyceridemia.17 However, biochemical engineer Ivor Cummins dispels this notion. He stresses that high triglyceride levels aren’t caused by fat consumption, but rather by excessive sugar from net carbohydrates you consume. Aside from this, factors that may increase your body’s triglyceride levels include:18

  • Medicines like thiazide diuretics, corticosteroids,19 beta blockers, retinoids, immunosuppressants and HIV medications,20 to name a few
  • Genetics21
  • Familial hypertriglyceridemia22,23

In some instances, having high triglyceride levels may also be a symptom of these health problems:24

Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes

Hypothyroidism or low thyroid hormone levels

A rare genetic disease that affect your body's ability to transform fat into energy

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Detecting your triglyceride levels

To check if you have normal triglyceride levels or not, you’ll need to take a blood test. As the University of California San Francisco advises, the blood sample should come from a vein located either at the back of your hand or the inside of your elbow. You must also fast for eight to 12 hours prior.25 Once you’ve received your results, you can refer to this chart and see whether your triglyceride levels should be a cause for concern:26,27

Normal — Less than 15 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or 1.7 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)

Borderline high — 150 to 199 mg/dL or 1.8 to 2.2 mmol/L

High — 200 to 499 mg/dL or 2.3 to 5.6 mmol/L

Very high — 500 mg/dL and above or 5.7 mmol/L or above

If your triglyceride levels are in the borderline high category or above, consult a doctor. Such a high level could increase your risk for the following potentially life-threatening health problems:

  • Metabolic syndrome28,29
  • Arteriosclerosis30 (hardening of your arteries31)32
  • Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas33,34,35
  • Coronary artery disease36
  • Myocardial infarction (MI) and ischemic heart disease (IHD)37

2 ways to help lower triglyceride levels naturally

If your levels are too high, then you must make it a point to address them before your health takes a turn for the worse. To lower your triglyceride levels, start by making these changes to your lifestyle:

Exercise more often — Working out allows you to burn calories,38 utilizing stored triglycerides and depleting their levels.39 According to some studies, exercise (particularly aerobic workouts) may help reduce triglyceride levels.40,41

Reduce your calorie intake — You can decrease triglyceride levels42 and induce weight loss by reducing the amount of calories you consume. The book “Obesity and Dyslipidemia” says that by losing weight, your body’s serum triglyceride and LDL cholesterols will decrease.43

Taking niacin supplements may also help reduce triglyceride levels by 20% to 50%. But as with all supplements, consult with your health care provider before taking any dose to lower your risk for side effects.44 Skin flushing and insulin resistance are two potential effects of niacin.45

Eating these foods may help reduce your triglyceride levels

You can also lower triglyceride levels by making changes to your diet. The Mayo Clinic recommends staying away from foods that contain hydrogenated oils or fats.46 Instead, opt for omega-3 fat sources like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies and flax seeds.47 These healthy fats have been linked to triglyceride-reducing effects.48,49,50

It may also be beneficial to implement a ketogenic diet, as it focuses on consuming high amounts of healthy fats, moderate quantities of high-quality protein and very minimal portions of carbohydrates.

The ketogenic diet helps your body reach a state of nutritional ketosis, enables it to convert stored fat into energy, prompts your liver to create ketones that your body may utilize for activities, and stimulates benefits like reduced insulin levels and cancer risk, improved muscle mass and weight loss.

Adding more fiber-rich foods into your diet may also help you lower triglyceride levels. Authors of a 2004 study discovered that fiber sources (cassava starch, oat fiber and resistant starch) helped reduce triglyceride, total cholesterol and LDL+VLDL cholesterol levels in hamsters.51 Examples of high-fiber food items you may want to consume more of include:

  • Organic, whole psyllium husk52
  • Chia seeds53
  • Sprouts54
  • Berries55
  • Vegetables like cauliflower,56 broccoli57 and Brussels sprouts58
  • Button, chanterelle, maitake, shiitake and oyster mushrooms59
  • Root vegetables and tubers, including onions,60 sweet potatoes61 and jicama62
  • Peas63 and beans64 (although beans should be avoided if you’re sensitive to lectins)

Avoid these if you want to lower your triglyceride levels

There are foods you should stay away from if you want your triglyceride levels to stay in the normal range. Strive to eliminate these foods from your diet:

Alcoholic beverages — According to a 2013 article, consuming high amounts of alcohol may increase your plasma triglyceride levels and your risk for cardiovascular disease, alcoholic fatty disease and pancreatitis.65

Sugar — A 2009 study emphasizes that consuming carbohydrates like high-calorie sugars, instead of dietary fats, may lead to increased plasma triglyceride levels, and raise your risk for issues like obesity and cardiovascular disease.66

Ideally, you should limit your daily intake of fructose to 25 grams to minimize your risk for developing high triglyceride levels and other health problems, such as insulin resistance. This includes sugar from fruits, which can cause negative changes to your triglyceride levels if eaten excessively.67 If you’re already insulin resistant, you may want to lower this amount to 15 grams.

Processed meats like bacon, sausage and ham68Results of a 2018 study highlighted that Korean adults who consumed more processed meats were predisposed to high triglyceride levels.69

Starchy foods — Carbohydrate-loaded starchy foods70 may be converted into triglycerides. Try to limit your intake or avoid starchy vegetables, pasta, potatoes or cereals altogether.71

Conventional drugs aren’t ideal to address high triglycerides

Some doctors may recommended statins to lower your triglyceride levels.72 However, you should take this advice with a grain of salt. These drugs, according to WebMD, can cause side effects like:73

  • Constipation
  • Myositis (muscle inflammation)
  • Rhabdomyolysis (severe muscle inflammation and damage)
  • Higher levels of creatine kinase, an enzyme that may lead to muscle-related damage

Fibrates may also be suggested if your body doesn’t respond to statins well.74 According to a 2002 article, fibrates aim to lower your triglyceride levels and raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.75 However, fibrates have been linked to side effects like headaches, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness and stomach pain.76

Take time to manage your triglyceride levels

Although triglycerides are important to your body’s overall function, the prevalence of an issue like hypertriglyceridemia proves that having too much of them is a bad thing. In order to prevent high triglyceride levels from spiraling into severe complications, monitor your levels while making an effort to consume health-boosting foods and implementing a holistic lifestyle.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about your triglyceride levels

Q: What are triglycerides made of?

A: Triglycerides are glycerol molecules with three fatty acids attached to them.77

Q: Is triglyceride a lipid?

A: Yes.78 MedlinePlus notes that triglycerides are the most common type of fat.79

Q: What is the normal range for triglycerides?

A: For your triglyceride levels to be considered “normal,” they have to be less than 15 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or 1.7 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).80,81

Q: Can having high triglyceride levels kill you?

A: Some studies have linked high triglyceride levels to conditions like coronary artery disease,82 metabolic syndrome,83,84 arteriosclerosis85 (hardening of your arteries86,87 pancreatitis,88,89,90  myocardial infarction (MI) and ischemic heart disease (IHD),91 any of which may increase your death risk.

Q: Are bananas good for high triglyceride levels?

A: Researchers have recommended consuming low-fructose fruits like bananas, cantaloupe and strawberries to address high triglyceride levels.92 If you want to achieve this benefit, however, always purchase organically grown produce and eat them in moderation to prevent your body’s sugar levels from rising.

Q: Can eggs raise your triglyceride levels?

A: A 2019 study highlighted that consuming a dozen eggs per week for one year didn’t have an effect on subjects’ triglyceride, serum total cholesterol and lipoprotein cholesterol levels.93

Q: Can coffee increase triglycerides?

A: Yes, in excessive amounts. According to a 2001 meta-analysis, levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol increased after consuming six cups of coffee.94

Q: Does olive oil contain triglycerides?

A: Yes, since 92% to 98% of olive oil is composed of triglycerides.95

Q: What are foods high in triglycerides?

A: High-triglyceride foods you shouldn’t include in your diet are alcohol,96 sugar,97 starchy foods like pasta, potatoes or cereal,98,99 processed meats,100,101 and very high amounts of sugar-containing fruits.102

Q: Does apple cider vinegar (ACV) help reduce triglycerides?

A: A 2008 animal study highlighted that ACV intake led to lower serum triglyceride levels in diabetic rats.103 In another article, this time published in 2018, the combination of ACV and a low-calorie diet helped reduce plasma triglyceride and total cholesterol levels in human subjects.104

Q: How can you reduce triglyceride levels?

A: You can lower high triglyceride levels by working out more,105,106 decreasing your calorie intake107 and following a nutrient-rich diet that puts emphasis on consuming high amounts of healthy fats108,109,110,111 and dietary fiber.112

Q: Can natural supplements help lower triglycerides?

A: Niacin supplements may be recommended if you have high triglyceride levels. However, because they may trigger side effects like skin flushing and insulin resistance,113 you’ll need to talk to your doctor to determine your ideal dosage.

+ Sources and References
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