Your Ultimate Cheat Sheet to Understanding Triglycerides

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, lowell heart

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, lowell heart

When it comes to something so personal and unique as health, the WellnessFX team likes to find new ways to help educate and decode how to best manage (and digest) all of the information. Enjoy this FAQ we made for triglycerides – are there others you’d like us to cover? Leave suggestions in the comments!

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are the main type of fat (lipid) found in your blood.

How are triglycerides created and what do they do in the body?

When you eat, your body converts some of the calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides. These triglycerides are then stored in various places, one of them being your fat cells. Later, your body uses some of your triglycerides for energy between meals.

Do I want to have more or fewer triglycerides??

Fewer – though your body needs some triglycerides for basic function, generally fewer is better. You’re aiming for a specific range when it comes to optimal health. While <150 mg/dL is considered normal, many, such as the American Heart Association, recommend a triglycerides goal of <100 mg/dL.

If you're using WellnessFX to track your biomarkers, this is what your dashboard/mobile app would show you regarding your risk range for Triglycerides.

If you’re using WellnessFX to track your biomarkers, this is what your dashboard/mobile app would show you regarding your risk range for Triglycerides.

What are some causes of high triglyceride levels?

  • Excess calories consumed that exceed what you expend in activity and exercise – calories that you don’t use right away are stored in the form of triglycerides.
  • Sugar and refined foods: Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and foods made with white flour.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and has a particularly potent effect on triglycerides. Even small amounts of alcohol can raise triglyceride levels.
  • Trans fats: Trans fat can be found in some fried foods and commercial baked products, such as cookies, crackers and snack cakes. Beware of packages that label their foods as free of trans fat. In the United States, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat a serving, it can be labeled trans fat-free. Even though those amounts seem small, they can add up quickly if you eat a lot of foods containing small amounts of trans fat. Do your due diligence by reading the ingredients list. You can tell that a food has trans fat in it if it contains “partially hydrogenated oil.”
  • Vegetable oils and animal fats: Because these oils and fats have been exposed to high amounts of temperature and processing, triglycerides are getting dumped into your body. If your diet includes a high amount of roasted seeds or roasted nuts, nut butters, heated oils such as heated coconut oil or heated extra virgin olive oil, barbecued meats or meats cooked at very high temperatures, then your triglyceride count is going to go up, as Ben Greenfield covered recently in his popular guest post, “4 Dangers of a low-carb, high-fat diet.”

What are the effects of high triglycerides in your body?

Too high a level of triglycerides affect your metabolic health (your body’s way of chemically processing sugar and fat for use throughout the body as energy) and can result in such diseases as coronary heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and stroke.

What else do triglycerides do?

Triglycerides are in cahoots with HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. the “good cholesterol”).

Why? Because having higher amounts of HDL can help carry these fatty deposits of triglycerides away from blood vessels and be protective. A disease commonly associated with HDL cholesterol and triglycerides is atherosclerosis, in which plaque builds up inside your arteries. Because your arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body, it is important to have the proper balance of triglycerides with artery-clearing HDL cholesterol.

The ideal ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol is less than 2:1, while a ratio greater than 6:1 is considered very high risk. By lowering your triglycerides and this ratio, you can further protect yourself from cardiovascular diseases, such as a heart attack or stroke.

How can I lower my triglycerides?

If your health is at risk from high triglycerides, you should talk with your doctor about how you can best lower your levels, especially if you choose to take over-the-counter supplements. A consultation with a WellnessFX practitioner can also provide you with a customized actionable plan based on your health profile.

Now that we’ve covered some of the causes of high triglyceride levels, here are some steps that can help lower levels:

  • Reduce intake of processed simple carbohydrates such as heavily processed foods, alcohol, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar. Need help kicking the sugar habit? Check out our tips on how to cut back.
  • Increase overall activity and exercise. This will not only serve to boost HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, but also increase your caloric needs so there are fewer excess calories.
  • Watch this video to learn more about your fats.

Are there side effects that let me know if my triglycerides are high?

High triglycerides by themselves do not typically cause symptoms. The best way to know your triglyceride level and health risks is through regular blood testing. If you have your health data, you can take action:

If you're using WellnessFX to track your triglycerides, it keeps a record of your risk profile over the course of your blood draws.

If you’re using WellnessFX to track your triglycerides, it keeps a (confidential) record of your risk profile over the course of all your blood draws, so you can track your improvement over time.

Your blood cells regenerate every 120 days, so we recommend an assessment via biomarker testing. A re-assessment every 4-6 months, after instituting new habits, can help provide you with an accurate picture of where your triglycerides (and total health) are.

Curious about your triglycerides?

Test My Triglycerides

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.