Although the hormone insulin is most often associated with glucose, what insulin does is help move substances from your bloodstream into your cells -- and that includes triglycerides. Elevated triglycerides often go hand-in-hand with high blood sugar because insulin is needed to remove both from your bloodstream. High triglycerides can be one of the first symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes or insulin resistance, also known as pre-diabetes.
Glucose and Triglycerides
The foods you eat, especially the carbohydrates sugar and starch, are easily converted to glucose -- your body's preferred energy source. Some glucose gets used immediately, but excess glucose is processed by your liver and converted into glycogen, which is stored in muscle tissue. If you don't have enough muscle mass and there's excess glycogen, it gets processed by your liver again, this time into triglycerides -- a type of fat. The majority of fat in your body is triglycerides, which can be converted back into energy when glucose isn't readily available.
Insulin Resistance and Triglycerides
When glucose hits your bloodstream, your pancreas responds by releasing insulin. The faster your blood sugar rises, the more insulin your body produces to stem the rising tide of blood sugar. Insulin moves glucose into your cells, then glycogen into your muscle and, if necessary, triglycerides into your fat cells for storage. Unfortunately, the more you flood your body with glucose, the harder your pancreas has to work to keep up with the demand for insulin. Eventually your pancreas can no longer keep up with your body's need for insulin and you develop insulin resistance -- a precursor to type 2 diabetes. With insulin resistance, either you don't produce enough insulin or your body can't use it effectively. Insulin resistance can cause high triglycerides.
Improving Insulin Sensitivity
If your elevated triglyceride levels are a result of insulin resistance, there are lifestyle changes you can make that can improve your insulin sensitivity and reduce triglyceride levels. Losing weight is critical -- fat interferes with your body's ability to use insulin. Even losing just 7 percent of your current body weight can significantly improve insulin resistance, notes the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Exercise will also help your body use insulin more effectively, especially strength training exercises that can help build lean muscle mass. Dietary changes, such as avoiding added sugars and starchy foods, will help regulate glucose and control insulin production.
Dangers of Elevated Triglyceride Levels
Triglycerides are a type of lipid, or fat, similar to cholesterol. And just like high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Triglycerides contribute to atherosclerosis -- the narrowing and hardening of your arteries. According to MayoClinic.com, high triglycerides can also be a sign of other serious health concerns, such as a thyroid hormone imbalance, liver or kidney disease, and metabolic syndrome.