In the quest to lower triglycerides, it helps to understand what they are and their importance in the overall functioning of your body. You need triglycerides for energy. Your body creates triglycerides by chemically converting the fat and carbohydrates that you ingest from food into energy, or calories, that you use for all types and levels of activity; you use calories constantly, even when you’re asleep! But you burn far more of them where you’re engaged in an activity like jogging, doing housework, or swimming. If you ingest more “energy” than you can use right away, your body stores it in the form of fat; check your tummy, hips and thighs right now, and you’ll see very clearly if your body is storing triglycerides!
So, how can you figure out how many calories you’re going to need to be just enough for the various levels of activity you are going to engage in on any given day? That’s impossible. You might be sitting at a desk for 8 hours and then go work out at the gym or play a round of squash; you’ll need more when you do that sort of vigorous activity. The good news is, your body has very kindly stored what you’re going to need to beat the other guy at racquetball, so daily fluctuations are not something you’ll have to calculate.
People almost invariably ingest more fats and carbohydrates than they could ever need for energy; the exception might be professional athletes. Look around. How many people do you see that need extra fats? Probably none. In fact, the opposite is true these days.
How Can I Tell if I have High Triglycerides?
The fact is, most of us do. The only calculated way to know your triglyceride levels is through the same type of blood test, known as a “lipid panel”, that is used to test cholesterol levels. Sure, you can tell if you’re carrying too much fat (triglycerides comprise the main form of fat we tote around in our bodies) by looking in a mirror, standing on a weigh scale, or feeling how tightly your clothes are fitting, but the only accurate way to know triglycerides levels is through the test. Until you see the results of the blood test, you cannot determine if your triglyceride levels need to be lowered.
Like cholesterols, triglycerides are measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Here are the levels for triglycerides in human adults:
- Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
- Borderline High: 150-199 mg/dL
- High: 200-499 mg/dL
- Very High: 500 mg/dL or higher
If you take a blood test and your results prove that your triglyceride levels are anything other than normal, there are two primary ways to lower them: lifestyle alterations and/or medications.
How Can I Lower Triglyceride Levels in My Body?
This objective is very similar to the things you would also do to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, but there are a few aspects of lowering triglycerides that are more specific than working on lowering total cholesterol levels. Cholesterol, too, affects your blood, and high levels can trigger heart disease, but triglycerides specifically provide your body with energy, whereas cholesterol handles other functions.
Here are the essential lifestyle changes you need to make to lower triglycerides without the additional burden (expense and side-effects) of achieving this with medications (in no particular order; they all apply):
- Lose weight. If you are carrying too much weight, you are also suffering higher levels of triglycerides.
- Consider going off birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRTs). These and certain other prescription medications can up triglyceride levels; there may be more natural ways to prevent getting pregnant or to ensure post-menopausal women have healthy hormone levels.
- Limit the amounts of fats and sugars you ingest. Go for the leanest meats or switch to fish. Don’t eat the skin on chicken. Opt for low-fat dairy products, of if you can’t stand low-fat cheese, and then just eat a smaller portion of the “real” stuff. Eat fresh fruits instead of candy and other sweets.
- Get 30 minutes of focused exercise every day, six days a week. If you’re in poor health or physically out of shape, then start with 10 minutes and build up. Walk more. Take the parking spot furthest away from work or the mall and walk even that distance. Get a dog and you’ll be walking every day! Dance, swim, jog, work out; do whatever you enjoy that also constitutes exercise.
- Reduce the amount of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in your diet. Eat less packaged and prepared foods and stick with whole foods. Avoid store-bought baked goods; bake your own bread now and then, and eat a handful of nuts instead of a bag of greasy potato chips.
- Quit smoking. Just do it.
- Reduce the amount of red meat you ingest, and even if you still crave a steak now and then, pay more for a smaller leaner cut than a big, fatty cut. Replace meat with fish, especially those types high in omega-3 fatty acids, namely: salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, herring, sardines, and mackerel. Even people who don’t like fish seem to eat tuna. In fact, we’ve encountered people who didn’t know tuna was fish…
- Be careful about alcohol consumption. The rule of thumb is one drink for women and two drinks for men per day, but if you have very high triglyceride levels, perhaps you need to quit drinking any and all alcohol until you get those levels under control. The jury is still out on types of alcohol that are more risky, but the accepted norm (until proven otherwise) is that red wine is good for your heart (in moderation, of course) and that white wine is best if you’re trying to lose weight. Beer is fattening and hard liquor has no evident benefits.
- Develop a new lifestyle routine. This means eating regular, healthy meals, three times a day, created with whole foods at home. Don’t skip breakfast. Do have a small snack when you get that energy lull in the afternoon (how about an apple and a handful of almonds!). Don’t eat the lion’s share of your calories at dinner, and don’t eat too late at night. No greasy snacks before bed; if you insist on a bedtime snack, try a small bowl of oat grain cereal with 1% milk and no sugar. Walk every day, and not just around the house or office. Take a short break every hour and stretch or have a speed-walk. Stop being a couch potato!
Here are the possible medications that you may be prescribed by your doctor if you must lower triglyceride levels dramatically and immediately. If you are this much at risk, your lifestyle changes will still be important, but that can happen once your triglyceride levels are stabilized:
- Ninacin. The B Vitamin, also known as “nicotinic acid”, lowers triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Niacin, even in vitamin supplement form, can have nasty contraindications and bad interaction with other drugs, so at the very least, consult a pharmacist, preferably your doctor, before self-prescribing this.
- Fibrates. Available only by prescription, these have brand names like Lopid, Lofibra and TriCor.
- Statins. Also used for lowering cholesterol levels, these are available by prescription only and may be used in tandem with niacin and/or fibrates. Statins do a good job of lowering triglycerides, but also have a few fairly serious side-effects for some people.
- Omega-3 Supplements. These are usually administered in fairly to very high doses to handle acute situations, and in supplement form, they should only be taken under the direction of your doctor. There is also a prescription variety of this, known as Lovaza.
How Can I Know if All These Changes have Lowered my Triglyceride Levels?
You’ll know, but not in factual terms, by the reduction of the body fat you can see and feel. Your clothes will fit better, you’ll look good naked, and your energy levels will improve. But the only way to accurately measure lower triglycerides is through the lipid panel blood test.
Doctors are not completely certain how badly high triglyceride levels on their own (as opposed to in combination with high cholesterol levels) affect the risk of heart disease, but most agree that women seem to be more prone to this than men. The majority of doctors believe that high triglyceride levels, regardless of gender, translate into enabling or multiplying the cumulative effects of high cholesterol, high blood pressures and diabetes.
Given that the lifestyle changes required to lower triglycerides are also very healthy choices in general, and they’re not hard to implement, there is no reason why you shouldn’t take action to make those adjustments right away. And since most of us are storing fat that we may not use, it’s obvious that lower triglycerides will result if we make simple, sensible lifestyle changes. It can’t hurt!