Think about your latest blood test. It probably looked at your cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. You likely know that high cholesterol and blood sugar are bad, but do you know the importance of triglycerides?
They are a key component of your heart – and general – health, so let’s fill the knowledge gap and learn about this energy-storing fat.
What are triglycerides, and why do we need them?
If three fatty acids (saturated or unsaturated fats) bond with one molecule of glycerol (sugar alcohol), you get a triglyceride.
Triglycerides are fats – the most prevalent fats in our body. They are energy-rich molecules stored in our fat cells. When our body needs energy, they are released into our bloodstream.
We get them from:
- Food: triglycerides are present in butter, oils, and other fats you eat.
- Our liver: human bodies create triglycerides from the calories we eat but don’t use, and store them in our fat cells.
Health complications from high triglycerides
Why is it important to keep them in check? High triglycerides are a risk factor for several serious health conditions:
- Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), including stroke, especially in combination with low HDL (good) and high LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas.
- Fatty liver disease, a build-up of fat in your liver. It can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis.
- Metabolic syndrome, a group of metabolic factors increasing your risk of CVDs. Other risk factors include prominent abdominal fat, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar.
Seeing how many serious conditions can arise due to elevated triglycerides, you should monitor your levels and employ healthy lifestyle changes to keep them within optimal levels. Let’s see how to achieve that.
The dos and don’ts of high triglycerides
High triglycerides are tricky to identify because there are no symptoms for you to see, so the only way to detect them is with a blood test.
Regular blood tests are a great preventive measure to keep you in-the-know about the functioning of your body.
The good news is that lowering triglycerides doesn’t demand any drastic changes to your life. The advice your doctor would give you actually pretty closely follows the general guidelines for healthy living:
- Keep a healthy weight. There is evidence that a 5-10% weight loss decreases triglycerides by 20%. Be especially aware of abdominal fat which is not only strongly related to increased triglycerides, but also insulin resistance and, consequently, diabetes.
- Be physically active. Aim for at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
- Limit saturated fats, simple and refined sugar, alcohol, salt, and dairy products.
- Be sure to include plenty of omega-3 rich foods in your diet. They are great for lowering triglycerides.
- Don’t smoke.
Can my genes help me lower triglycerides?
Yes, they can. You can be genetically predisposed to higher or lower levels of triglycerides: the most favourable genes are linked with a 70% lower, whereas the least favourable genes might account for a 60% higher triglyceride level. Such significant differences make knowing your predispositions crucial for proactive and personal preventive healthcare.
And that’s not all. You know that omega-3 fatty acids are healthy and that they are also good for lowering triglycerides. But did you know that for carriers of a specific genotype they can be even more efficient at lowering their triglycerides?
With a DNA test that you can take at home, you can discover what your genes have to say about triglycerides and incorporate that knowledge into your daily routine.