Most people focus on their cholesterol levels: the total, LDL and HDL levels. And this is important because where they stand can impact your risk for cardiovascular disease down the road, including your chances for having a heart attack or stroke. But triglycerides are equally important

Focus on triglyceride levels

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Most people focus on their cholesterol levels: the total, LDL and HDL levels. And this is important because where they stand can impact your risk for cardiovascular disease down the road, including your chances for having a heart attack or stroke. But triglycerides are equally important. A recent study published in the American Journal of Cardiology reports that having elevated triglycerides is especially risky if you have type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease. Here is more from this study of 2,300 patients; most of the study participants were obese, had type 2 diabetes for less than 10 years, and were on statins for their lipids.

These are the most common risk factors for having high triglyceride levels:

  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol
  • Metabolic syndrome

There are serious health risks to having high triglyceride levels:

  • Developing acute pancreatitis
  • Promotion of inflammation
  • Plaque build-up in the artery walls

The research indicated that having triglyceride levels above the recommended 150 mg/dL when you already have type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease increased risk for

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Death from a cardiovascular event

Having high triglycerides is risky health-wise, but especially if you have a pre-existing condition such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. There are lifestyle therapies that can help get those numbers back under 150 mg/dL:

  • Weight loss is really important. There is a reduction in triglyceride levels of 8 mg/dL for every two pounds of weight loss. The key will be to keep that weight off so that the triglycerides stay down. 
  • Alcohol needs to be eliminated because it quickly bumps up blood triglyceride levels. 
  • Exercise each day will help get the weight down, as well as the triglyceride levels.
  • High blood sugar levels can bump up triglycerides, too, so if you have diabetes you will want very good control of your numbers with an A1C of 7% or less.
  • Diet-wise, eating to prevent blood sugar spikes is important since excess blood sugar can be converted into triglycerides. Healthy fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole-grain starches and lean protein should be the basis for meal planning.

Recipes to try: 

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.