Triglycerides are the main form of fat in the body and in the diet. They provide energy, insulate the body, protect internal organs from shock, provide an energy reserve and help the body use carbohydrate and protein efficiently. The body stores excess fat, and the liver converts excess carbohydrate and protein into fat. High triglycerides, or too much fat in the blood, is linked with chronic disease such as heart disease, some cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
A fasting blood lipid profile test measures triglyceride levels in milligrams per deciliter of blood, and results reveal whether triglycerides fall into a higher than normal range. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, levels are: normal: less than 150 mg per deciliter; borderline high: 150 to 199 mg per deciliter; high: 200 to 499 mg per deciliter; very high: 500 mg or more per deciliter.
Higher than normal triglyceride levels mean an increased risk of stroke, heart disease or heart attack resulting from atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. The Mayo Clinic describes atherosclerosis as the buildup of fats or plaque in the artery walls that restricts blood flow. The plaques can cause a blood clot that may cut off blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack, or may cut off blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.
High triglycerides often are a sign of obesity. The body’s fat stores have virtually unlimited capacity because of special adipose, or fat, cells, according to Eleanor Whitney and Sharon Rolfes in the text “Understanding Nutrition.” The fat cells in adipose tissue readily take up and store fat. Triglycerides pack together within the adipose cells, efficiently storing energy for later use.
High triglycerides accompany metabolic syndrome, a combination of four risk factors that significantly increase a person’s chance of developing coronary heart disease. High triglycerides indicate the need to stay alert for the combination of insulin resistance, high blood pressure, abdominal obesity and high blood cholesterol that define the metabolic syndrome.
According to the Mayo Clinic, high triglycerides sometimes indicate the presence of a condition that affects how the body converts fat to energy. That could include poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, low thyroid hormones, liver or kidney disease or a rare genetic condition. High triglycerides might be a side effect of medications such as birth control pills, diuretics, steroids or beta blockers.
If you have high triglycerides, you may need to take corrective actions by losing weight, cutting back on calories, sugar and refined foods and limiting cholesterol intake in the diet by avoiding eggs, saturated fat, trans fats and whole milk products. Doctors recommend that you avoid alcohol and exercise regularly. People with diabetes who have high triglycerides need to control blood sugar and blood pressure.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: National Institutes of Health:ATPIII At a Glance
- Mayo Clinic: Triglycerides: Why Do They Matter?
- “Understanding Nutrition, Ninth Edition”, Eleanor Noss Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes (2002)