If you measure your cholesterol levels on a lipid profile, the test usually includes triglycerides.
Triglycerides are fats circulating in your bloodstream. Triglycerides can also be stored in your body, but that isn’t measured on a lipid panel.
You want some triglycerides. They’re perfect packets of energy.
High triglycerides, however, are linked to heart disease, diabetes, and many other health issues.
According to the American College of Cardiology, high triglycerides is considered over 150 milligrams / deciliter, as measured in the blood[*].
High-carb diets, being overweight, and heavy drinking — among other factors — are associated with high triglycerides.
Read on to learn the basics of triglycerides, why high triglycerides are undesirable, and nine ways to lower triglycerides.
A triglyceride is a type of fat, or lipid, found in your blood. Specifically, a triglyceride is made up of three fatty acids bound by a glycerol molecule.
When your body needs to store fat, it’s stored as triglyceride. When your body needs to transport fat, it’s transported as triglyceride[*].
And when you need energy? Assuming you’re fat-adapted: triglyceride.
Think of triglycerides as the SUV of fats. A multi-purpose vehicle.
These vehicles store and transport energy throughout your body. To access this energy, you break apart the triglyceride, then use the fatty acids within to produce energy, or ATP.
But if you eat lots of carbs and sugar, you won’t be breaking apart many triglycerides. Instead you’ll be storing them.
High-Carb Diets And Triglycerides
When you eat a high-carb diet, your blood sugar rises in response to those carb-rich meals.
Over time, high-carb diets can lead to hyperglycemia, or chronic high blood sugar. Hyperglycemia is a dangerous condition, linked to the development of many diseases[*].
Your liver, however, has a defense mechanism against hyperglycemia. It takes excess blood sugar and converts it to triglycerides[*].
Triglycerides are safer than excess glucose. They can be stored away as body fat.
Triglycerides aren’t a perfect solution if you’re trying to lose fat. But they’re safer than high blood sugar.
This explains why high triglycerides, or hypertriglyceridemia, is part of the metabolic syndrome[*]. Having high triglycerides means your body is scrambling to deal with high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and other high-carb, high-sugar metabolic problems.
Triglycerides themselves aren’t the problem. High triglycerides are more like a red flag that something’s wrong with your metabolism.
High triglycerides are linked to a number of negative health outcomes, with heart disease and diabetes topping the list[*].
To be clear, high triglycerides don’t necessarily cause bad health. They’re just correlated with a number of diseases.
#1: High Triglycerides And Heart Disease
Many studies have linked high triglycerides to increased risk of cardiovascular disease[*].
Triglycerides are most useful for measuring heart disease risk when analyzed alongside HDL cholesterol. Researchers have found that — in high risk patients — a high triglyceride to HDL ratio predicts risk better than other measures, including LDL cholesterol[*].
Some researchers, however, doubt that triglycerides actually cause heart disease. Instead, triglycerides are a warning sign — a red alert — for other heart disease risk factors, like obesity or type 2 diabetes[*].
For instance, drugs called fibrates — which lower triglycerides specifically — have only mixed results in clinical trials on heart disease[*].
Cholesterol lowering drugs called statins also lower triglyceride levels, and have been shown to reduce heart disease risk[*]. But statins also lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels — more established risk factors for heart disease.
#2: High Triglycerides And Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder defined by high blood sugar, high insulin, high blood pressure and obesity.
High blood sugar, if you recall, makes your liver say: time to store this toxic sugar away as triglycerides!
In other words: when blood sugar goes up, triglycerides go up too.
Insulin levels go up as well. Insulin is there to manage your blood sugar, but too much insulin — called hyperinsulinemia — is linked to nearly every chronic disease, including diabetes[*].
So high blood sugar, high insulin, and nowhere for blood sugar to go. Except fat.
So the liver turns that sugar to triglycerides[*]. Then they’re pumped into the blood. Or stored as body fat or visceral fat around the organs.
This explains, in part, why type 2 diabetics tend to put on fat. It’s all those triglycerides.
#3: High Triglycerides And NAFLD
Excess triglycerides have to go somewhere. One place they go is the liver.
When too much fat builds up on the liver, a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can develop.
NAFLD isn’t always harmful, but it can lead to cirrhosis, or liver failure. Unsurprisingly, high triglycerides are strongly linked to the development of NAFLD[*].
#4: High triglycerides and pancreatitis
When triglycerides get very high — over 500 mg/dl — the risk for pancreatitis increases[*].
Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. In chronic cases, pancreatitis increases pancreatic cancer risk.
Diet and lifestyle changes are the keys to lowering triglycerides naturally.
Drugs like statins, fibrates, and high dose niacin also can lower triglycerides, but they do so pharmaceutically. Consult your medical professional for advice on this.
#1: Lose Weight
Losing weight not only decreases stored body fat, but also reduces serum triglycerides.
One study looked at 401 overweight adults enrolled in a weight loss program. By the end of the study, adults who lost 5-10% of body weight had significantly lower triglycerides. Those who lost over 10% had even more significant results[*].
Another study looked at people who gained weight back after losing it. Even so, these folks maintained reductions in both triglycerides and total cholesterol[*].
How does shedding pounds reduce triglycerides?
Well, losing weight improves blood sugar and insulin levels, which means less triglycerides are made by the liver[*]. Lower blood sugar, lower triglycerides.
Obesity is also a major risk factor for heart disease[*]. Losing extra weight is good for the heart.
Healthy weight loss means losing fat, not muscle. To do so, make sure you eat enough protein and lift weights.
#2: Cut Your Sugar Intake
If the Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in anything, it’s high in sugar.
That’s right. The average American eats about 152 pounds of sugar every year![*].
Added sugar comes from sweetened drinks, baked goods, candy, desserts — almost anything that comes in a package. That includes the purple Kool-Aid at the gas station.
And yes, added sugar in the diet means added sugar in the blood.
Your liver then turns that sugar to triglycerides. It’s a safety mechanism, if you recall, to prevent dangerous hyperglycemia.
Those triglycerides, unfortunately, end up as body fat (in your gut or thighs) or visceral fat around your organs. They also end up in your blood, where you can measure them.
In one study, researchers found that fructose and high fructose corn syrup significantly increased triglyceride levels in young men and women for 24 hours following ingestion[*].
After 24 hours, however, their serum triglycerides returned to baseline. Where did all those triglycerides go? They were probably stored away.
Another study found that sugar intake was linked to higher triglyceride levels in children[*].
Low-carb, low-sugar diets, on the other hand, are linked to lower triglyceride levels. More on that now.
#3: Consider Going Keto
It seems counterintuitive, but eating a high-fat diet can lower triglycerides.
Wait, hold on. Eating fat lowers the amount of fat circulating in your blood?
It can. The reason, again, involves your metabolism.
Here’s the thing. Having high triglycerides is linked to[*]:
- Low HDL cholesterol
- High blood sugar
- High insulin
- Insulin resistance
In other words, high triglycerides are linked to metabolic syndrome, the extreme version of which is type 2 diabetes.
In many cases, these metabolic issues stem from high-carb diets. Nothing raises blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels like soft drinks, ice cream, cookies, crackers, chips, donuts — well, you get the idea.
Some published evidence now.
One group of researchers put 83 obese patients on a 24-week ketogenic diet. The results were positive: lower triglycerides, lower blood glucose, lower LDL cholesterol, and higher HDL cholesterol[*].
In another study, a 12-week keto diet decreased triglyceride levels in men by 38.6%. These men, by the way, also lost 20% of their abdominal fat[*].
One final point. Be sure to avoid trans fats on your ketogenic diet, as these have been shown to increase triglycerides and heart disease risk[*].
Saturated fats and monounsaturated fats should comprise the bulk of your fat calories. Eating monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, are linked to reduced cardiovascular disease risk[*].
#4: Consume Fiber
Dietary fiber has many health benefits. Eating fiber:
- Feeds your gut bacteria, which then produce anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)[*]
- Increases satiety
- Limits blood sugar spikes
- Supports the immune system
- Helps prevent diabetes[*]
- Keeps the bowels regular
- Binds to toxins in the stool
Consuming fiber may also lower triglycerides.
Take the BioCycle study, which followed 259 women for up to two menstrual cycles[*]. Researchers found that women who consumed over 22 grams of fiber per day had lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
According to another paper, eating more fiber may also limit the triglyceride impact from a low-fat, high-carb diet[*].
Other research, however, has found no impact of dietary fiber — soluble fiber, to be exact — on triglyceride levels[*].
High-fiber foods include broccoli, root vegetables, avocados, carrots, sweet potatoes, and asparagus. Most plant matter is high in fiber.
The takeaway is that fiber may lower triglycerides. More research is needed though.
#5: Eat Nuts
In several observational studies, researchers have found nut consumption to be inversely correlated with heart disease risk[*]. In other words, nuts seem to be good for your heart.
Here are some possible reasons why:
- Nuts are high in fiber
- Nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids
- Nuts are a low-carb food
- Nuts are satiating, and harder to overeat than other snacks
Along with lowering high cholesterol, nuts also lower triglycerides. This effect, however, is only moderate[*].
It may depend on the nut. One group of researchers, for instance, found that eating pistachios (instead of pretzels) significantly lowered triglycerides among 59 participants[*].
One final caveat. Some nuts are high in omega-6 fatty acids (O6), and excess O6 consumption has been linked to increased risk of heart disease[*].
To avoid excess O6, favor almonds, hazelnuts, and macadamias. These nuts have less O6 and more omega 3s.
#6: Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are considered essential fatty acids because you must get them through diet. These polyunsaturated fats are crucial for brain health, controlling inflammation, and — recent research suggests — heart health too[*].
That research was called the REDUCE-IT trial — a five-year, randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial on 8,179 high-risk heart disease patients[*].
“Patients with elevated triglyceride levels are at increased risk for ischemic events,” state the authors to begin the paper. The omega-3 fatty acid EPA is known to lower triglycerides, they continue, but actual effects on heart disease are unknown.
The study design was simple. Half the patients received 4 grams EPA per day, the other half received a placebo. The primary endpoint was a composite score of cardiac death, heart attack, and related events.
The results were significant. Compared to placebo, there were fewer cardiac events in the omega 3 group
To get your omega 3s, eat fatty fish like salmon or sardines. That’s the most natural way.
Alternatively, you can also take a high quality fish oil supplement. Just be sure to check with your doctor, as high dose fish oil can increase bleeding risk.
Exercise is amazing medicine, but you need to put the work in. They haven’t made an exercise pill yet.
Physical activity appears to moderately lower triglycerides. The mechanism involves an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, or LPL[*].
Think of LPL as your fat busting chief. It busts up your triglycerides to be used for energy.
Simply put: exercise stimulates LPL, and LPL breaks up your triglycerides. Good deal.
#8: Limit Alcohol
Heavy drinking is linked to all sorts of negative conditions: heart disease, alcoholic fatty liver disease, and pancreatitis — to name a few[*].
Here’s another reason to avoid heavy drinking. Like sugar, alcohol can be converted — by the liver — to triglycerides.
Oddly enough, light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with decreased triglycerides, possibly due to polyphenols in wine and individual genetic factors[*].
But if you have very high triglycerides, experts recommend you cease drinking alcohol entirely[*].
#9: Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) is the regular practice of not eating. Intermittent fasts can range from 12 hours to several days in length.
Here’s what happens. When you fast, your body stops burning sugar — and starts burning fat — for energy[*].
IF is similar to the keto diet. In both fasted and ketogenic states, you mobilize body fat to make ketones. These ketones are used, instead of glucose, for energy.
Back to triglycerides now. Alternate-day 24-hour fasting has been shown to promote weight loss, lower cholesterol, and lower triglycerides[*] — all favorable changes for heart disease risk.
Triglycerides are bundles of fat, perfect for energy storage. You need them to function normally.
High triglycerides, however, are correlated with increased heart disease risk.
To lower triglycerides naturally, focus on diet and lifestyle. Going low-carb, getting enough omega-3s, exercising, and limiting sugar all can help.
And the best part: These changes don’t only improve your triglycerides, they also improve your health.