Why triglycerides are important for health

Triglycerides are an important parameter of heart health. Here’s why triglycerides are important and what to do if your triglycerides are too high.
If you’re watching your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, there’s something else you need to watch: your triglycerides. A high level of triglycerides in the blood can increase the risk of heart disease. But the same lifestyle choices that promote overall health can also help lower your triglycerides.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts calories into triglycerides that it doesn’t need to use immediately. Triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides to provide energy between meals. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, especially from carbohydrate-rich foods, you may be suffering from high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia).

What is considered normal?

A simple blood test can reveal if your triglycerides are in a healthy range:

Normal: Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or less than 1.7 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)
Upper limit: 150 to 199 mg/dL (1.8 to 2.2 mmol/L)
High: 200 to 499 mg/dL (2.3 to 5.6 mmol/L)
Very high: 500 mg/dL or more (5.7 mmol/L or more)

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Your doctor will usually check for high triglycerides as part of a cholesterol test. Sometimes called a lipid profile or lipid profile. You will need to be fasting before the blood test to get an accurate triglyceride measurement.

What is the difference between triglycerides and cholesterol?

Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids that circulate in your blood:

Triglycerides store unused calories and provide your body with energy.
Cholesterol is used to build cells and some hormones.

Why are high triglycerides a concern?

A high level of triglycerides can contribute to the hardening of the arteries or the thickening of their walls (arteriosclerosis). This increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease. Extremely high triglyceride levels can also cause acute inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

High triglycerides are often a sign of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, including obesity and metabolic syndrome. A collection of conditions including excess fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels.

High triglycerides can also be a sign of:

Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
Metabolic syndrome, a condition in which high blood pressure, obesity, and high blood sugar combine to increase the risk of heart disease
Low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism)
Some rare genetic conditions that affect how your body converts fat into energy

Sometimes high triglycerides are a side effect of taking certain medications, such as:

Estrogen and progestin
Some immunosuppressants
Some HIV medications

What is the best way to lower triglycerides?

It is essential to make healthy lifestyle choices:

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Exercise regularly

– Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most or every day of the week. Regular exercise can lower triglycerides and increase “good” cholesterol. Try to incorporate more physical activity into your daily tasks. For example, climb stairs at work or take a walk during breaks.

– Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and foods made with white flour or fructose, can raise triglycerides.

– Lose weight

If you have mild or moderate hypertriglyceridemia, focus on calorie reduction. The extra calories are converted into triglycerides and stored as fat. By reducing your calories, you reduce triglycerides.

– Choose healthier fats

Replace saturated fats found in meats with healthier fats found in plants, such as olive and canola oils. Instead of red meat, try fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as mackerel or salmon. Avoid trans fats or foods containing hydrogenated oils or fats.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and has a particularly strong effect on triglycerides. If you have severe hypertriglyceridemia, avoid drinking alcohol.


High blood triglycerides. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed Aug. 7, 2018.

Bonow RO, et al., eds. Risk markers and the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. In: Braunwald’s Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2019. Accessed May 30, 2018.

Kumar P, et al., eds. Lipid and metabolic disorders. In: Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2017. Accessed May 22, 2018.

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