4 Causes of High Triglyceride Levels and Ways to Lower Your Own Levels

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

Too high a level of triglycerides can make you more resistant to insulin and can result in such diseases as heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver, and stroke.

Triglycerides are also closely related to HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. the “good cholesterol”), because having higher amounts of HDL can help carry these fatty deposits of triglycerides away from blood vessels and be protective. The clogging of blood vessels commonly associated with triglycerides is called 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.

WellnessFX dashboard: Triglycerides to HDL Ratio

Understanding Optimal Triglyceride Levels

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.

WellnessFX keeps a private and secure record of your risk profile over the course of all your blood draws so you can track your improvement over time.

4 Causes of High Triglyceride Levels

1. Excess calories.

When you eat, your body converts some of the calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides which are then stored in fat cells. Later, your body uses some of your triglycerides for energy between meals. Therefore, when you consume more than you expend in activity and exercise – calories that you don’t use right away are stored in the form of triglycerides.

2. Sugar and foods made with refined flour.

Simply put, sugar and refined foods contain carbohydrates, and carbohydrates drive insulin. Insulin is the body’s primary regulator of fat metabolism. When insulin levels go up, we store fat. When it falls, we use fat for fuels.

Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and foods made with white flour, such as breads, pastas, muffins, cereals, cake, chips, cookies, beer, wine, fruit juice, soda, are fast digesting carbs. Fast digesting carbs cause blood sugar/insulin to spike, thereby promoting the formation of Triglycerides. Some slower digesting carbs include sweet potatoes, veggies (such as kale, spinach, asparagus, and broccoli), fruits in their whole form (berries and citrus fruits) and beans.

These refined, processed foods are also not as nutrient dense and contain less fiber, which means you might not feel as full or satiated when you eat, causing you to overeat which can lead to weight gain.

3. 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. As detailed by WellnessFX Practitioner and NYTimes best selling author Ben Greenfield:

“Due to its high fructose content, most forms of alcohol can shove triglycerides through the roof. Alcohol has an especially significant additive effect on the postprandial (after a meal) triglyceride peak when it accompanies a meal containing fat, especially saturated fat. This results from a decrease in the breakdown of cholesterol due to an acute inhibitory effect of alcohol on the activity of the crucial fat burning enzyme lipoprotein lipase. Alcohol also increases the synthesis of large VLDL particles in the liver, which is the main source of triglycerides in the high triglyceride state so often seen with chronic excessive alcohol intake.” 

Read how a 30-Day No Alcohol Experiment resulted in triglycerides plummeting with absolutely no dietary changes other than the elimination of alcohol. 

4. Certain Oils and Fats

Trans fats: Trans Fat is a liquid fat that is turned into a solid, by a process called hydrogenation. Trans fat can be found in some fried foods and commercially baked products, such as cookies, crackers, and snack cakes. Consuming trans fat increases LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol and decreases HDL (aka “good”) cholesterol – creating double harm.  

Trans fat is used to give foods a different texture/shelf-life. It is most commonly found in:

  • Processed foods
  • Fried foods
  • Snack foods, such as chips, crackers & cookies
  • Margarine & salad dressings
  • Pie Crusts
  • Frozen pizza
  • Coffee creamers

“In this case, it has become clear that what’s good for extending shelf-life is not equally good for extending human life,” writes Susan Mayne, Ph.D., Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

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.”

Related reading: Do You Know These 10 tricks Food Marketers Use to Make You Buy? 

Vegetable oils and animal fats: “vegetable oils and animal fats can also raise triglycerides. The big issue here is that if these oils and fats have been exposed to high amounts of temperature and processing, triglycerides are getting dumped into your body chock full of free radicals.” 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 in his popular guest post, “4 Dangers of a low-carb, high-fat diet.”

Possible Ways to Lower Triglycerides

The ideal triglycerides level is <100 mg/dL. 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.

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.

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. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started on making the most of the workout time you have, even if it’s just 10 minutes.
  • Lowering alcohol and high-fructose corn syrup which get metabolized fairly directly to triglycerides
  • Watch this video where we break down your lipid biomarkers in an easy to understand way.

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

High triglycerides by themselves do not typically cause symptoms unless extremely high. 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:

How WellnessFX Can Help

Curious about your triglycerides? 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.

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.