Many health articles warn of the dangers of having high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, citing the increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with those conditions. And while treating these risk factors can certainly decrease your risk and help you maintain your overall health, there is another risk factor that you may be overlooking: your triglycerides.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that is carried in the blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it does not use right away into triglycerides, which are then transported to and stored in your fat cells. Subsequently, these triglycerides will be released for energy between meals.
Elevated triglycerides are a concern since they promote atherosclerosis or fat deposition in the arteries that supply all of our organs and tissues including our heart, brain, kidneys and legs. Atherosclerosis is the major cause of heart attack and stroke, circulatory problems in the legs and erectile dysfunction, and can produce kidney disease.
"Triglyceride levels tend to be elevated in people who are overweight or obese and occur often in diabetics when their blood sugars are elevated, or in anyone who regularly consumes more calories than they burn, especially carbohydrates and fats,” explains Irving M. Herling, MD, Director of Clinical Cardiology for Main Line HealthCare and Lankenau Medical Center.
In some instances, triglycerides may become elevated as a side effect of medications such as certain beta blockers, birth control pills, diuretics, or steroids. If you are on any of these medications, make sure to talk to your doctor about your triglyceride levels.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the ideal triglyceride level should be 100 mg/dL or lower. A simple blood test can reveal what your triglyceride levels are, and you can work with your doctor to determine if treatment is needed. In most cases, simple lifestyle changes can help lower a high triglyceride level.
“Typically, elevated triglycerides improve substantially with dietary and lifestyle changes, and control of elevated blood sugars” says Dr. Herling. “Diet, weight loss, and routine physical activity are often effective in lowering triglycerides to safer levels.”
In addition, if you wish to lower your triglycerides without medication, try to limit the consumption of trans fats, alcohol, cholesterol, and high-sugar-containing foods. In addition, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week, which can lower your triglycerides and your cholesterol.
If these methods are not adequate to lower your triglycerides to what are considered acceptable levels for your medical condition, your doctor may recommend medication to supplement your lifestyle changes.
If you have questions about your heart health, make an appointment with your physician or a cardiologist to discuss. To find a Main Line Health cardiologist near you or to learn more about Main Line Health’s heart services, visit our website.