How do I lower high triglycerides?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Are high triglycerides dangerous, and how can you lower them?

Expert Answer

Carolyn Strimike, N.P. and Margie Latrella, N.P. are cardiac nurse practitioners specializing in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. They have over 40 years of nursing experience in Cardiology between them. The main goal of their work is to counsel, motivate and empower women to adopt healthy lifestyle choices.

Yes, high triglyceride levels are dangerous, and you do need to lower them. But doctors often don't do a good job of explaining why or how. Triglycerides (TG) are fats, or lipids. They're sometimes called the "forgotten fat," because everyone talks about cholesterol but neglects the importance of triglycerides. While it's important to control your LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol), increased TG levels are also a risk factor for developing heart disease. The problem is that not all triglycerides are stored as fats; some remain in the blood, where they thicken it, increasing the likelihood of clotting and artery clogging.

You want your triglyceride reading to be less than 150 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter); the optimum is less than 100 mg/dl. For TG levels over 200, the risk of developing heart disease doubles. High TG levels are usually found in people who are overweight, have diabetes, or have low HDL levels.

To lower your TG levels, you'll need to make diet and lifestyle changes, but it's not as simple as cutting out fat. Triglycerides actually come from foods fried in oil (such as fast food) and from simple carbohydrates (such as candy, drinks sweetened with glucose and sucrose, and cookies, cakes, and baked goods). When the calories from carbohydrates aren't immediately used by tissues in the body, they're converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells for future use.

The best way to lower triglycerides is to cut carbohydrates rather than fat. We also tell people to boost their exercise and activity level; studies have shown that moderate activity can significantly cut TG levels. In one study, people who followed a program of moderate walking lowered their TG levels by 25 percent. Research has also shown that boosting your intake of omega-3 fatty acids lowers TG levels.

Here are more specific steps to follow:

  • Get 30 minutes of exercise a day.

  • Lose weight.

  • Avoid sugar.

  • Avoid carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and rice.

  • Eat more fiber and whole grains.

  • Avoid alcohol, which turns to sugar in the bloodstream.

  • Don't eat foods with partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats.

  • Eat fish and take fish oil supplements.

  • Stop smoking.