How Triglycerides Take a TollFor many adults, an annual physical involves routine blood tests, followed by a discussion of cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, along with prescribed treatment ranging from improved nutrition and exercise to drugs. Triglycerides tend to be relegated to a minor mention—if they are discussed at all—yet regulating triglyceride levels can improve health.
Why Triglycerides Count
“High triglyceride levels usually accompany low HDL (good) cholesterol levels and often accompany tendencies toward high blood pressure and central (abdominal) obesity. These are the markers of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, very common disorders underlying obesity and increased risks of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes,” explains Dr. Andrew Weil on his website, DrWeil.com.
While high triglyceride levels are not conclusively linked to the development of any specific disease, they are associated with the narrowing of arteries and impaired blood flow associated with cardiovascular disease. (Impaired blood flow also effects male erectile function.) Several recent studies, including one in the Annals of Internal Medicine, also suggest these could instigate the metabolic syndrome associated with the onset of diabetes and atherosclerosis, which can lead to stroke and cardiovascular disease.
What Creates Triglycerides?
Triglycerides, a normal component of blood, are introduced into the body by the fat in foods. Some are produced in the liver as the body’s response to a diet high in simple sugars or carbohydrates—especially hydrogenated oils and trans-fats.
Evidence reported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests that very high intakes of carbohydrates are accompanied by a rise in triglycerides, noting that, “Carbohydrate intakes should be limited to 60 percent of total calories.”
Many research scientists agree that the main cause for high triglyceride levels is the Standard American Diet, notoriously high in sugars and simple carbohydrates, trans-fats and saturated animal fats, and far too low in complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals; specifically, vitamins A, B, C, D and especially E, plus the minerals selenium, magnesium, silicon and chromium. Sugars added to soft drinks and food products, especially those containing high-fructose corn syrup, also raise triglyceride levels significantly.
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic! and national medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, observes, “The average American gets about 150 pounds of sugar added to his/her diet each year from processed food, causing fatigue, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and a host of other problems.”
Animal fats, like those in farm-raised red meats, typically contain a skewed ratio of the fats known as omega-3 and omega-6, with the latter dominating by nearly 20:1; a ratio also found in commercial packaged foods and baked goods. Many studies show such a high omega-6/omega-3 ratio tends to promote disease. Eating oily fish and healthy plant oils such as cold-pressed virgin olive and coconut oil, nuts, seeds and minimally prepared foods provides a more balanced ratio of omega fatty acids.
Lowering Triglyceride Levels
Part of today’s medical paradigm focuses on lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. As a result, many patients and doctors worry about cholesterol levels, but ignore triglycerides. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a triglyceride level of 100 milligrams per deciliter or less; about one-third of the population currently exceeds this. While drugs can help, the AHA does not recommend drug therapy except for people that have severe levels (more than 500mg/dL), which can increase the risk of acute pancreatitis. For those with high, but not severe levels, dietary and other lifestyle changes can be effective in lowering triglyceride levels.
Logically, reducing consumption of red meat and processed foods, especially those containing trans-fats, and increasing consumption of complex carbohydrates from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes is recommended. AHA studies further show that daily supplementation of fish oil and full-spectrum vitamin E can reduce serum triglyceride levels significantly. In one study, fish oil containing at least 1,000 to 3,000 mg of omega-3 decreased such concentrations by 25 to 30 percent.
In a 2009 study of a nationally representative group of 5,610 people published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. Earl S. Ford, of the U. S. Centers for Disease Control, found that about one-third had triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL—considered somewhat high—while almost another 20 percent had high levels of 200-plus mg/dL.
Always consult a knowledgeable health practitioner prior to beginning a new regimen. Just as with managing any aspect of health, care is required and knowledge is power.