What Are Triglycerides and 3 Ways to Reduce Them
Has your doctor recommended that you take a blood test to determine your triglyceride blood levels? Do you have high cholesterol? There are many studies that show a direct relation correlation between high triglyceride (TG) and cholesterol blood levels, resulting in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and stroke.
There is also so much misinformation about the role that triglycerides and cholesterol play in our health and how to balance that risk. Several clinical studies show that Omega-3 fatty acids actively reduce TG blood levels and provide protection against cardiovascular diseases; however, there are some misconceptions about triglycerides and how to effectively reduce them.
In this blog, you’ll learn:
- What Are Triglycerides?
- What is Cholesterol?
- Fat Transport: What is Good Cholesterol Versus Bad Cholesterol?
- The Top 3 Ways to Reduce Triglycerides
In simple terms, TG is blood fat that are formed by a skeleton of glycerol and three (that is where the name comes from) fatty acids can be either saturated or unsaturated. TG are ingested in the regular diet and the glycerol skeleton. The free fatty acids absorb in the intestine, where the TG are newly formed and released into the blood, as we will explain later.
Depending on your diet and lifestyle, triglyceride levels vary. Your doctor may ask you to take a blood test to determine your triglyceride levels. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a normal classification of triglycerides is less than 150 mg/dL. However, anyone with triglyceride blood levels exceeding 500 mg/dL is considered to have hypertriglyceridemia, which is a high-risk factor for cardiovascular disease and pancreatitis.
Cholesterol is another type of fat in the blood. It is an essential component of the cells and it is a vital molecule to the development and functioning of our cell membranes, sex hormones, and oil-soluble vitamins (A, D, K and E). It is also necessary to produce other hormones such as a cortisol, the stress hormone, which regulates blood sugar and fights infection.
In short, there is no good cholesterol versus bad cholesterol because cholesterol serves its purpose. A common myth is that cholesterol is bad fat that is consumed from a diet high in saturated fats. Once it builds up and gets into the blood stream, you eventually die of a heart attack. Not exactly.
Humans produce over 80 percent of cholesterol in the liver. Some people create more cholesterol depending on their genetics, gender and/or age. In fact, cholesterol from food is not exactly the same cholesterol that clogs your arteries. There have been many studies that distinguish dietary cholesterol from blood cholesterol. According to one Harvard Medical School study, you could eat an egg a day and your blood cholesterol levels wouldn’t increase.
Cholesterol and TG travel through the body in particles called lipoproteins, that move through the blood stream. Depending on the proportion of TG and cholesterol contained in them, these lipoproteins are known as chylomicrons, very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL).
Chylomicrons carry large amounts of triglyceride saturated fats and cholesterol from diet and spread TG throughout the body to be used for energy. As the particles get smaller and denser (sdLDL), cholesterol particles get stuck in the wall of the arteries, creating inflammation, and eventually plaque buildup. The higher your sdLDL levels, the more concerned you should be of heart disease. This is why LDL is considered “bad cholesterol”.
In contrast, HDL acts as a “fat scavenger” and takes all the fat molecules (including cholesterol and TG) away from the bloodstream, back to the liver. That is why HDL is known as the “good cholesterol” particle. Therefore, it’s better to have a higher ratio of HDL to LDL and focus on lowering the number of small and dense (LDL and sdLDL) particles in your blood. A lipid panel blood test will measure your cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol.
As you can see in the images above, the larger and more buoyant the cholesterol particles, the less likely cholesterol will get stuck in the arterial wall and cause inflammation. Bad fats, such as too much Omega-6 fatty acids (greasy foods) in the TG can cause inflammation and induces clogged arteries. Taking more Omega-3 and actively decreasing your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio can help reduce triglycerides and combat inflammation.
Now you are aware that cholesterol and triglycerides are not all bad. Each serves its purpose and function in the body, but excess of triglycerides and cholesterol can raise health concerns. However, it has been clinically proven that you can lower triglycerides with a consistent exercise routine, low-carb diet, and pure EPA and DHA in Omega-3 can improve your health significantly.
1) Increase Physical Activity
Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate, breathing, and stimulates your muscles. Full body workouts, such as biking, swimming, jogging, and walking can improve your heart health. Just walking at fast pace or uphill for 30 to 45 minutes can help stimulate your heart rate. TheAmerican Heart Association (AHA) recommends two of the following for overall cardiovascular health:
- Either 30 minutes of moderate exercise for 5 days a week (walking), or
- At least 25 minutes of high-intensity aerobics at least 3 days a week (biking or zumba, etc.), and
- Moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening 3 to 4 times per week
The AHA also recommends at least 40 minutes of moderate to high-intensity activity 3 to 4 times a week to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
2) Maintain a Low-carb Diet
Another myth is that maintaining a low-fat, high-carb diet is better than a low-carb, high-fat diet to lower triglycerides. This is simply not true. People who maintain a consistent low-carb, high-fat diet usually have healthier ratios of triglycerides to HDL. It’s been clinically proven that low-carb diets raise HDL, which consequently lowers LDL cholesterol.
According to a 2009 study by the Endocrine Society, researchers found that a low-carb diet helps stabilize blood sugar and reduces insulin levels. One group consumed a diet of 55 percent carbs, 18 percent protein, and 27 percent fat. A second group consumed a diet of 43 percent carbs, 18 percent protein and 39 percent fat. Both groups had the same calorie intake. The group with fewer carbs and a higher fat intake felt fuller and had better blood sugar and insulin levels.
3) Increase Daily Intake of EPA and DHA
One key element in increasing fat in our daily intake is quality. We need to avoid saturated fat and try to increment healthier Omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. The critical source in Omega-3 is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be found in seafood, such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and wild salmon. Both are derived from the most common Omega-3, α-Linolenic acid (alpha-Linolenic acid or ALA), which is found in plants.
Humans cannot produce ALA on their own so it must be consumed via food and/or supplements. You’d have to eat an overwhelming amount of seafood on a normal basis to increase your EPA and DHA to get ideal Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio levels.
You could also try to consume a heavy plant-based diet high in ALA, but the ALA that converts into EPA and DHA still wouldn’t be enough. ALA converts into EPA by only 5 to 10 percent and EPA converts into DHA by 5 percent or less.
For most of us, increasing our daily intake of EPA and DHA by consuming seafood or a plant-based diet isn’t practical. Therefore, taking a daily omega-3 supplement with at least 80 percent of EPA and DHA is more effective than consuming a diet or taking generic supplements.
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