Triglycerides: How Do They Affect Your Health?

Health Professional

We hear a lot about "cutting our saturated fat intake" these days, but unfortunately protecting your heart health is  an awful lot more complicated than that.

Let's take triglycerides as one example.

What are triglycerides? Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food, and also in the body.  The triglycerides which you find in blood plasma come from fats eaten in your diet, or from those made in the body from foods like carbohydrates.

So, when you eat a meal, those calories which are not used right away, are converted into triglycerides, and then stored in the fat cells.  Then, when your body needs more energy between meals, hormones cause triglycerides to be released from fat tissues to meet this need.

Triglycerides and cholesterol: what's the difference? Triglycerides and cholesterol are both fatty substances known as lipids, but triglycerides are fats, whereas cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver. Cholesterol is in fact an essential part of cell walls and nerves, digestion, and hormone production.

To be clear, you do need some triglycerides for good health, too. But when your levels are too high, this is when problems can begin.

Risks of having high triglycerides There is some suggestion that high triglycerides contribute to hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis, which increases your risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease.

And, having high triglycerides is often a sign of other conditions, which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, such as being obese, poorly controlled diabetes, or having metabolic syndrome this  is basically the combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, too much weight being carried around your waist area, low HDL cholesterol, combined with high triglycerides.  All of these factors can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Causes of high triglycerides So, you may have high triglycerides for a number or reasons, including:

  • Obesity.
  • Poorly controlled diabetes.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Poor dietary choices.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Certain medications, such as Tamoxifen, Steroids, Beta-blockers, Diuretics, Birth control pills.

Whether raised triglycerides alone are a risk factor for heart disease is debated, but needless to say, if you have high triglycerides you need to make every effort to reduce your levels.

How do you know if you have high triglyceride levels?

There are no symptoms of high triglycerides, so you will only know that you have elevated levels when you get a lipid profile test taken by your doctor. This will show your levels for triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol.

A "normal" reading for triglyceride level is under 150 mg/dl, ranging right up to a very high reading of 500 mg/dl, or more. However, if you follow Dr Davis on Health Central, you'll know that on his program for reversal of heart disease, he recommends a target triglyceride level of 60 mg/dl, or less.

In my next article I'll be discussing how you can lower your triglyceride levels, so please stay tuned for that, and drop me any queries in the comments section below...

Melanie Thomassian, registered dietitian, online health coach, and author of, cuts through the misconceptions about diet and fitness to help you transform your health for life. Visit her website to learn more, or check out her new healthy eating guide.