The world of heart health can be a complicated place. Cholesterol, HDL, unsaturated fat, triglycerides … what do all these terms mean? The ProActiv website aims to help you understand this complicated terminology and enable you to take control over your own heart health.
In this article, we focus on that tricky last term: triglycerides. It’s a word you’ve probably heard bandied about before, but what is a triglyceride, really? Luckily, it’s quite simple. We’ve covered the key basics here: what triglycerides are, and how to lower them.
So, what are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fatty substance, or lipid, used as a source and store of energy by the body. They’re produced by the liver and also gained through the diet from the foods we eat.
Triglyceride levels in the blood are affected by diet because of what happens when we don’t burn off sufficient calories: triglycerides can start to build up. This may lead to raised triglyceride levels in the blood, which is a possible risk factor for heart disease*.
It’s worth noting though that there are other causes of raised triglycerides, including a genetic predisposition to high triglycerides and a condition called Familial Combined Hyperlipidaemia, where both cholesterol and triglycerides are above the normal range.
Cholesterol and triglycerides: What’s the connection?
In general, the higher your triglycerides, the lower your HDL (also called “good”) cholesterol. As such, it’s good to be aware of your triglyceride levels and make sure they are not too high.
To know your numbers, you need to take what’s called a full lipid profile. This is a blood test that looks at the different types of fat in your blood and tells you the levels of each one. Usually the test results will include total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL- and HDL-cholesterol. Once you know your numbers, you’re empowered to do something about it if need be.
So, what are the recommended triglyceride levels?
- Fasting triglycerides = 2mmol/L or less
- Non-fasting triglycerides = less than 4mmol/L
How to lower triglyceride levels
If you’re wondering how to lower triglycerides, you should know that a healthy lifestyle is key:
- Get to, and maintain, a healthy weight. Studies have shown that if you’re overweight, losing that extra weight can help to bring triglycerides down.
- Be more active. Upping the amount of exercise you regularly do has also been shown to help. The NHS recommends 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week – start there and build up to more if you have the time.
- Talk to a healthcare professional. If your triglyceride levels are higher than they should be, it’s important to sit down for a chat with a healthcare professional. They are trained to test your blood, explain the results and then give you the low-down on what are triglycerides and how to lower them, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Maintaining healthy triglycerides
If you already know how to reduce triglycerides and are taking the necessary steps, you might also be interested in how you can help to maintain healthy triglyceride levels.
One thing that can contribute towards the maintenance of normal blood triglyceride levels is to eat 2 - 5g a day of two specific types of omega 3. These are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are found in certain types of oily fish and algae*.
While you’re unlikely to eat algae, oily fish are a little bit easier to locate: mackerel, salmon, and sardines are all tasty options.
Other things to consider
Taking good care of your heart means doing more than just lowering triglycerides. Having a healthy, balanced diet is key, as well as maintaining desirable cholesterol levels and following a few simple health maintenance rules. Find out more about how to have a healthy heart here.
OK, so what next?
There are lots of small, simple steps you can take to lower or maintain triglycerides, so take the first step today and book in a test! And for advice on having a healthy lifestyle and diet, including recipes, tips on heart health, fitness guides, and more, download our free Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit.
* Raised triglycerides is a possible risk factor for heart disease. There are multiple factors that affect heart health, and you may need to tackle all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.
**DHA and EPA contribute to the maintenance of normal blood triglyceride levels.