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What's Up With My High Triglycerides?
by our Health Guru

"I've just discovered that my triglycerides are elevated. What does that mean and what can I do about it? P.S. I would prefer not to take a drug if at all possible."

our Health Guru's Answer
In order to answer your question, first a little bit of background about triglycerides is necessary, beginning with what triglycerides are. Simply put, triglycerides are a normally-occurring type of fat in your body. In fact, they are the most common type of body fat and are also present in your blood. Triglycerides are also the most prevalent form of fat found in foods. After a meal, whatever calories contained in the foods you eat that are not immediately put to use are converted into triglycerides and stored in your body's fat cells.

Like cholesterol, the health of your body depends on a certain amount of triglycerides. One of the most important functions of triglycerides is to provide your body with the energy it needs. This process is regulated by certain hormones in the body.

Normal levels of triglycerides should be below 150 mg/dL. Levels above 200 mg/dL are considered unhealthy. Chronically elevated levels of triglycerides is known as hypertriglyceridemia, which can cause heart disease.

Before your can properly treat hypertriglyceridemia, it is important to first determine what is causing your elevated triglyceride levels. Two of the most common causes are poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Excessive carbohydrate intake is one possible cause of your problem, as is consuming more calories than your body can effectively burn. A lack of regular exercise and physical activity can compound these problems. Unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, can also be a factor, as can certain medications.

Additionally, people with high triglyceride levels invariably also have low HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Low HDL is a new and important risk factor for heart disease and in the ARIC trial (Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities) low HDL levels was found to correspond with a significant increase in risk for both heart disease and diabetes.

Elevated triglyceride levels can also be caused by underlying health problems such as undetected or poorly controlled diabetes, kidney disease, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid function), and obesity. High triglyceride levels are also a common symptom of metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X. This is a health problem that is becoming increasing common in the United States. It is a condition characterized by a combination of high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, unhealthily low levels of HDL cholesterol, and excessive fat around the waist, all of which can raise triglyceride levels. Therefore, I recommend that you be tested for these health conditions if you haven't been already, in order to rule out any other underlying problems you may have.

If your condition is due to poor diet and lifestyle habits, there is much that you can do on your own to bring down your triglyceride levels without using drugs, although you should always keep your physician apprised of any changes you make to your diet and level of physical activity.

Diet: The first step you should take when it comes to your diet is to eliminate unhealthy foods that are known cause triglyceride levels to rise. These include all types of alcoholic beverages, fried foods, sugar and artificial sugar substitutes, refined carbohydrate foods, and foods that contain hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats (also known as trans fats - this means avoiding processed and packaged foods, which usually contain trans fats). You should also limit your consumption of saturated fats, which are found in meats, butter, lard, shortening, milk and dairy products. Also avoid canned fruit juices and limit your consumption of fresh fruit juices, as well, because of their naturally high sugar content.

You will also want to limit your consumption of starchy foods, such as bagels, bread, pasta, and potatoes. There is some very interesting science behind the metabolism of carbohydrates resulting in post-prandial (after meals) hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypertriglyceridemia. Both of these conditions are risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. The research shows that the more carbohydrates that are consumed at any given meal, the higher one's triglycerides will be immediately after a meal. In some cases, triglyceride elevations can be so dramatic as to prevent adequate blood flow to the brain, literally impairing cognitive function. Therefore, when choosing carbohydrate foods, try to emphasize whole grains and legumes and eat them in small portions.

Instead of the food choices above, be sure to eat plentiful servings of fresh vegetables throughout the day, along with healthy protein rich foods, such as lean meats, skinless poultry, egg whites, and wild caught fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tilapia.

Healthy carbohydrate foods include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, brown rice, millet, and quinoa, along with legumes, yams, and whole grain breads. I also recommend that you eat foods that have a low glycemic index rating, due to how carbohydrates can effect triglyceride levels after they are consumed. A ranking of foods by their glycemic index can be found here:

If you choose to consume dairy products, do so sparingly. Organic, low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt are all acceptable choices, so long as you are not lactose-intolerant.

In addition, instead of eating three large meals each day, try eating four to six smaller meals, and snacking on nuts between meals. Also be sure to drink plenty of pure, filtered water throughout the day.

Exercise: A regular exercise program is also an essential step in managing your triglyceride levels. Ideally, you should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each and every day. Aerobic exercise is especially good, and includes activities such as walking, cycling, jogging, and swimming. I also recommend Tai chi, due to the many benefits I've personally received from my many years of practicing it.

If you are unused to exercising, be sure to consult with your doctor so that the two of you can work together to create an exercise program that is most appropriate to your specific needs.

Lifestyle: If you are overweight, work with your doctor, who can help you devise a program for losing excess weight. Also, if you smoke, seek help so that you can quit.

After following these guidelines for a month or two, have your doctor retest you triglyceride levels to see if you are making the progress you desire. If not, medication may be necessary, but even if it is, don't abandon your health diet, exercise, and lifestyle routine, as all of the above measures can improve the benefit you receive from drugs.

Nutritional Supplements: Some of the most useful supplements for managing triglyceride levels ore omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids trigger lipoprotein lipase activation, resulting in an immediate breakdown of triglycerides in the blood without drug or side effects. What an amazing remedy!

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is another useful nutrient, not only for helping to maintain healthy triglyceride levels, but also for the health of your body's entire cardiovascular system. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) can also be helpful.

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