High triglycerides raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. Learn how to lower triglyceride levels with lifestyle changes and medication, if needed.
When you have a physical, depending on your age and health history, your doctor may order a blood test to check levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. Most people are aware too high levels of the waxy, fat-like substance known as cholesterol raises their risk of heart attack and stroke. But it’s important to understand elevated triglycerides play a role in cardiovascular disease, too. So learning how to lower triglyceride levels is a proactive way to protect your health.
A total cholesterol level includes the “bad” type of cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, LDL) linked to clogged arteries, as well as the “good” type of cholesterol (high density lipoprotein, HDL) that helps protect your cardiovascular system, the American Heart Association explains. Triglycerides are another type of fat found in your blood and in food. High triglycerides (a level of 150 mg/dl or higher), especially when combined with high HDL levels or low HDL cholesterol, can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What’s more, elevated triglycerides can also put you at risk for pancreatitis (painful inflammation of the pancreas) and metabolic syndrome, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) points out.
However, there’s good news. You can lower high triglycerides. Sometimes, medications are needed, but for many people, how to lower triglyceride levels involves TLC, therapeutic lifestyle changes. And these same strategies can help your health in other ways, too.
Look: How to lower triglyceride levels with TLC
To understand how to lower triglyceride levels, it makes sense to see what often caused your triglycerides to become high in the first place. Although sometimes there’s a genetic reason, more often being overweight or obese, failing to get regular exercise, smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, and a diet very high in carbohydrates are responsible, the NHLBI explains.
For specifics on how to lower triglyceride levels, unless you have extremely high levels, the NHLBI advises starting with lifestyle changes including:
- Avoid “bad” fats. Eat less saturated fat, found in full fat dairy products and red meat, and avoid trans fats (often found in processed and fast foods).
- Get your weight under control. If you are obese or overweight, losing just five to 10 percent of your weight typically causes triglyceride levels to decrease.
- Stop being sedentary and commit to regular exercise. Physical activity not only can lower triglycerides but also boost heart healthy HDL cholesterol.
- Opt out of less refined carbs like white bread and sugar-filled snacks and sodas.
- Excessive alcohol is bad for everyone’s triglycerides and health — but, in some people, alcohol even in moderation can trigger high triglycerides. To see if you are strongly affected by alcohol, avoid it for several weeks and then have your triglycerides levels rechecked.
- Eating fatty fish like salmon and sardines that are rich in omega-3 fatty can lower triglycerides. Aim for at least two servings a week.
- If you smoke, stop. You’ll be helping your heart and lungs while you lower your triglycerides.
Bottom line? You can take control of high triglyceride levels
Work with your doctor on keeping a record of your triglyceride levels — and keep track of the progress you are making to lower them with healthy lifestyle changes.
If you need more help, especially if there is a genetic component to your high triglyceride levels, there are medications that are effective. For example, your doctor may place you on a regimen of omega-3 supplements, fibrates (drugs that lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol), or nicotinic acid (niacin, which lowers LDL cholesterol along with triglycerides).
A word of caution: Although niacin is available over the counter, talk to you doctor before self-medicating with this supplement. High doses of niacin can sometimes have worrisome and potentially serious side effects.
March 02, 2020