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Triglycerides and Your Health

What Are Triglycerides and How Do You Improve Them?
  -- By Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
If you're concerned about heart health, then you probably take steps to reduce your cholesterol and keep your blood pressure in check. But there's another important measure you should be aware of: your triglycerides. People with high triglycerides (called hypertriglyceridemia) often have low HDL ("good cholesterol") levels; this combination is considered by many experts to be associated with an increased risk for heart disease.

Triglycerides are the most common forms of fat found in the food you eat and in your body. The visible fat on chicken and steak, for example, is actually triglycerides. Your body stores the extra calories you eat inside your fat cells as triglycerides. Since your body regularly uses stored body fat as fuel between meals, the triglycerides stored in your fat cells are released into the bloodstream. The more excess body fat you have, and the more extra calories you eat, the higher your triglyceride levels are likely to be.

A simple blood cholesterol test (also known as a lipid profile), performed after fasting for 9-12 hours, can determine your triglyceride level. Less than 150 mg/dL of triglycerides is considered normal. Levels above 150 are considered "high" to different degrees: 150-199 mg/dL (borderline high), 200-499 mg/dL (high) and over 500 mg/dL (very high).

High triglycerides are correlated with a hardening and/or thickening of the artery walls, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which elevates your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. They can also be a "symptom" of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and poorly managed type 2 diabetes—additional health conditions that increase the risk of heart disease. <pagebreak>

So how do you lower your triglycerides? By making heart-healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to your diet, weight and fitness. Here are a few ways to start: This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, MS, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

Sources
American Heart Association. "Triglycerides," accessed March 2011. www.americanheart.org.

Mayo Clinic. "Triglycerides: Why Do They Matter?," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Third Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults," accessed March 2011. www.nhlbi.nih.gov.