What are Triglycerides and Why Do They Matter?

You’re probably thinking that tracking cholesterol and blood pressure is enough of a task without adding in the responsibility of understanding and noticing triglycerides as well. Well don’t worry, because you’re actually already well aware of triglycerides, even if you don’t know them by that name. Those pesky areas of fat around your hips, belly, and thighs are actually triglycerides hard at work! Here’s your cheat sheet to understanding the basics of triglycerides and targeting their build-up to improve your heart health.

An Introduction to Triglycerides: Although this type of fat is given a bad reputation, triglycerides are actually critical to human life since they are the main form of stored fat. Even though you certainly don’t want too much fat in your body, you still need some! At the end of the digestion process, triglycerides remain until utilized for energy. They only become a negative health issue if triglyceride levels severely outweigh what you burn off, since high levels are linked to increased chances of developing heart disease.

What Triglyceride Level Should I Aim For? The same blood test used to check cholesterol levels can also indicate your current triglyceride level. Ideally the test will inform you that you have less than 150 milligrams of triglycerides per deciliter of blood. Any higher than 200 mg/dL is cause for concern, and levels above 500 mg/dL require immediate attention. This blood test is very simple and only requires fasting for 12 hours prior to the appointment.

Why Are High Triglyceride Levels So Dangerous? It is widely believed that abnormally high triglyceride levels lead to harder, thicker artery walls, which in turn can cause stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. Furthermore, high triglyceride levels indicate other existing problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypothyroidism. One simple test has the potential to uncover crucial information to improving your health and saving you from very unpleasant medical experiences down the road.

If My Triglyceride Levels Are High, What Should I Do? The good news is that lowering triglycerides doesn’t require any effort outside of normal healthy living habits. You can work to lose 5–10 pounds to eliminate extra fat stores created by triglycerides and make smarter food choices to reduce calorie intake. This includes cutting down on sugar foods, replacing saturated fats with healthy plant and fish-based fats, and limiting alcohol levels. Of course, exercise more! This doesn’t need to be vigorous if your body can’t handle it. Even a brisk walk or swim in the pool can improve your health. Most powerful of all: quit smoking. There are a million and one reasons to make this choice, and lowering your triglyceride level just adds another to the list! Medications are always an option if lifestyle changes alone don’t suffice. Statins, fish oil supplements, fibrates, and niacin are all effective for this purpose.

Controlling your triglyceride level doesn’t need to be complicated. Pick one or two healthy choices as your focus, and build better habits with time.

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