How to Lower Your Triglycerides

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The importance of maintaining blood pressure and cholesterol levels is not a new concept. But, there is another component in preventative healthcare that you need to monitor as well—your triglyceride level.

This measurement gives healthcare providers insight into your overall health as well as your risk for certain conditions—especially if your triglycerides are high. The good news, though, is that if your levels are elevated, there are things you can do to lower them.

"There are several lifestyle changes you can make," says Christopher Davis, MD, FACC, an interventional cardiologist and founder of Reveal Vitality. "One of the most effective ways to lower triglycerides is to eat a healthy diet, [such as] a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Limiting foods that are high in added sugars can also help."

If you are looking for other ways to lower your triglyceride level, read on. Below we explore not only what your triglyceride level might mean for you, but also offer practical ways you can reduce your triglyceride level.

What Are Triglycerides?

Generally speaking, triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. As the most common type of fat in your body, they come from the foods like butter, oils, and other fats. They also can come from the extra calories you eat. When these calories are not used by your body right away, they are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells.

"[Triglycerides] are the most common type of fat in the body and play an important role in energy storage and metabolism," Dr. Davis says. "When we eat more calories than our body needs, the extra calories are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. These stored triglycerides can then be used as a source of energy when our body needs it."

Triglycerides are measured by a routine cholesterol panel or blood test, says Heather M. Johnson, MD, FAHA, FACC, FASPC, a double board-certified preventive cardiologist at the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health and Wellness Institute and Baptist Health South Florida. The most common cause of elevated triglycerides is a high intake of simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white potatoes, white bread, and pasta made from white flour, she says.

"Sugar-sweetened beverages and sweet, sugary foods [like] cookies and cakes can also increase triglycerides," Dr. Johnson adds. "Alcohol beverages may raise triglycerides and some medications can increase triglycerides. Certain health conditions such as diabetes, thyroid, liver, and kidney abnormalities can also elevate triglycerides."

What Is a Normal Triglyceride Measurement?

When it comes to your triglyceride measurement, most healthcare providers consider triglyceride levels under 150 milligrams per deciliter (or 150 mg/dL) to be normal, explains Dung Trinh, MD, an expert on preventive healthcare including brain health and inflammation prevention and the owner and founder of Healthy Brain Clinic.

"Borderline high levels are 150 mg/dL to 199 mg/dL," Dr. Trinh adds. "A high level would be a measurement of 200 mg/dL to 499 mg/dL. Patients should be concerned with triglycerides above the normal range."

To get the most accurate measurement, Dr. Johnson suggests getting a fasting cholesterol (lipid) panel. If your levels are elevated, you may have an increased risk for a number of health conditions.

"High triglycerides increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and overall atherosclerosis (clogging of the walls of an artery)," Dr. Trinh says. "Very high triglycerides increase the risk of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). High triglycerides also have been associated with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiac disease, and rare genetic conditions."

What This Measurement Means for You

When reviewing your triglyceride level, you and your healthcare provider should consider this measurement with your other cholesterol numbers, including the LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol, Dr. Johnson says.

"It is also recommended to be screened for other medical conditions that may raise triglycerides and affect your health (labs for liver, kidney, thyroid, and diabetes)," Dr. Johnson says. "This combined information will be helpful to understand your health."

Risks of High Triglycerides

If your triglyceride level is high, then you are at risk for a number of different health conditions. What's more, having a high triglyceride level can lead to heart disease and contribute to the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

"A consistently high triglyceride level is likely to contribute to the hardening of the arteries or the thickening of arterial walls," says Collin Johnston, DO, a board-certified physician with specialty training in vascular procedures at Vein Envy. "Triglycerides can be even more impactful to one’s health if other conditions such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure are present."

High triglycerides also can cause fatty deposits in the liver, which can lead to inflammation and damage to the liver over time, Dr. Davis adds. "High triglycerides levels also are often associated with obesity, as excess calorie consumption leads to the production of triglycerides. This can lead to a cycle of high triglycerides, insulin resistance, and weight gain, which increases the risk of health problems."

Difference Between Triglycerides and Cholesterol

While triglycerides and cholesterol are both lipids and can easily be confused, they have different functions within the body. And while your body needs healthy levels of both triglycerides and cholesterol to function, having too much of either can cause problems.

"The primary difference between triglycerides and cholesterol is that triglycerides store unused calories and provide your body with energy," says Dr. Johnston. "Cholesterol is used as a building block for cells and certain hormones."

Cholesterol is mostly produced by the liver with only a small portion of cholesterol in the body coming from dietary sources, adds Dr. Davis. Triglycerides, on the other hand, come from both dietary sources and liver production, he says.

To measure the distinct types of fat or lipids in your blood, your healthcare provider may order a routine fasting cholesterol blood test. This test will include your total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Best Ways to Lower Triglycerides

According to a study published in the European Heart Journal, the first step in treating high triglycerides should be lifestyle changes. Then, if those changes do not lower your triglyceride levels, you may need to take medication.

"The good news is that triglycerides can [usually] be lowered with healthy lifestyle changes and you might not need medication," says Dr. Johnson.

Some lifestyle changes you can start making to improve triglyceride levels include assessing your diet for excess simple carbohydrate consumption, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and sugary foods. Here are some additional things you can do.

Exercise Consistently

One of the best things you can do to lower your triglyceride level is to exercise on a consistent basis. In fact, the benefits of exercise on triglycerides is most apparent in long-term exercise regimens. One study involving participants with heart disease discovered that exercising for 45 minutes, five times per week can lead to a significant reduction in triglycerides.

As for the type of exercise, Dr. Davis suggests moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week. There also is some evidence that the intensity at which you exercise could play a factor. For instance, some research has found that exercising at a higher intensity for a shorter period of time may be more effective at impacting triglyceride levels than exercising at a moderate intensity for longer periods.

Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol

Alcohol use is often a significant contributor to elevated triglyceride levels, says Dr. Johnston. This is largely due to the fact that alcohol is often high in sugars, carbs, and calories.

When these calories are not used by your body, they can be converted into triglycerides and stored in your fat cells. In fact, some studies show that moderate alcohol consumption can increase blood triglycerides by up to 53%, even if your triglyceride levels are normal at the start.

"The moderation—or in some cases elimination—of alcohol intake can be employed to decrease triglyceride levels in the blood without the need for medication in some patients," he says.

Keep in mind that while some research has linked light to moderate alcohol consumption to a reduced risk of heart disease, binge drinking is tied to an increased risk. The positive aspects of drinking must be weighed against the physiological effects. These can include mitochondrial dysfunction and changes in circulation, an inflammatory response, oxidative stress, and programmed cell death, as well as anatomical damage to the overall cardiovascular system.

Your Weight May Not Be The Issue

Clinicians may recommend losing weight to reduce triglyceride levels. However, if people are implementing healthy lifestyle changes, triglyceride levels generally should improve. To date, there has yet to be enough research on diets that are effective long-term. Note that generics may also play a role in the onset of hyperlipidemia or increased triglyceride levels.

Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Sugar intake plays a significant role not only in your heart health but also in your overall well-being. Yet, if you are like most people, you may not even realize how much sugar you are consuming in a day's time. In fact, one study found that while the American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 to 150 calories of added sugar per day, the average person potentially consumes about 308 calories of added sugar daily.

All of this excess sugar can result in higher triglyceride levels. For instance, researchers note people who consume sugar-sweetened beverages regularly were more than 50% more likely to have high triglycerides, compared with those who did not drink them on a regular basis.

While it is important to reduce or limit your sugar intake, it could be as simple as switching to drinking water. You also can reduce sugar by reading labels and watching for hidden sources of sugar in the foods you consume consistently.

Include More Fiber in Your Diet

Dietary fiber—which is found in a variety of plant sources including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes—plays an important role in your body such as regulating digestion and keeping your gut healthy. Including more fiber in your diet can slow the absorption of sugar and fat in your small intestine, which helps decrease your triglycerides.

Increasing your fiber intake also can be particularly beneficial for people living in larger bodies and have higher triglyceride levels. Researchers found that eating more fiber helped lower their triglyceride levels.

Adding tree nuts, in particular, to your diet may be useful in lowering your triglyceride levels. Not only do they provide a concentrated dose of fiber, but they also supply your body with omega-3 fatty acids, and unsaturated fats, all of which can help lower triglycerides.

For instance, one analysis of 61 studies showed that each daily serving of tree nuts decreased triglycerides by an average of 2.2 mg/dL. Meanwhile, another review of 49 studies had similar findings.

"If lifestyle changes alone do not lower your triglyceride levels, medication may be necessary," Dr. Davis says. "There also are several types of supplements that can lower triglyceride levels, including fish oil, berberine, bergamot, and phosphatidylcholine."

Medications Used to Lower Triglycerides

While lifestyle changes are the best way to lower triglycerides, if you do need medication to help lower your levels, there are several categories available to you. These include niacin, fibrates, and statins, says Dr. Trinh.

Prescription fish oil and statins work in the bloodstream and liver to lower triglycerides. Meanwhile, fibrates are a category of medications that also lower triglycerides through the liver, Dr. Johnson explains.

"If a medication is started, it should be based on your triglyceride level, LDL (bad) cholesterol level, liver, and kidney labs," she adds. "It is also important to discuss the potential benefits and risks before starting a medication."

If you have excessively high triglyceride numbers, this might indicate an overproduction through the liver, which is usually inherited and will most often require some sort of pharmacological help to control the high triglycerides, Dr. Johnston says.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What foods naturally lower triglycerides?

    Research indicates that one of the best ways to lower triglyceride levels is to eliminate trans-fat from your diet as well as minimize saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. Instead, researchers suggest focusing on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and fish or other omega-3 fatty acids.

  • What reduces triglycerides naturally?

    Studies show that pairing aerobic exercise with weight loss is especially effective at decreasing triglycerides. What's more, losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can cause a significant reduction in your triglyceride levels.

  • What foods to avoid if your triglycerides are high?

    If you have high triglycerides, you should limit your intake of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sweets. You also may find it helpful to reduce or even eliminate alcohol.

15 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sherri Gordon, CLC
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert. She's also the former editor of Columbus Parent and has countless years of experience writing and researching health and social issues.