Triglycerides are a type of lipid or fat found in the blood that is generated from the consumption of calories that should not be used immediately, so the body stores them by converting them into triglycerides. It should be noted that these are stored in fat cells and that, subsequently, when the body needs them, hormones release triglycerides to compensate for the lack of energy, especially between meals.
Although triglycerides can be considered as an energy reserve, it is important to be aware of the risk of high triglycerides, where we speak of a level that exceeds the normal limits, which are usually between 150 and 199 mg/dl. We can then consider that we have a high triglyceride level from 200 onwards.
Risks related to high triglycerides
The problems associated with high triglycerides are linked to two major risk factors. Firstly, we have the genetic causes, known as primary hypertriglyceridemias and finally we have the environmental causes or secondary hypertriglyceridemias.
In the case of genetic causes or genetic risk of high triglycerides, we find some genes that are responsible for the increase of triglycerides in the blood. This implies an alteration in the genes that should naturally generate proteins that destroy triglycerides. That is to say, when alterations occur, our body does not eliminate the excess triglycerides in the blood and this is why it is very high.
In these cases, the diagnosis is made at an early age, especially in children who have developed inflammation in the pancreas or pancreatitis. In some cases there are very noticeable elevations of triglycerides. These can be as high as 5,000 to 10,000 mg/dL. In these cases, the diagnosis is hyperchylomicronemia syndrome. However, genetic causes alone can usually cause only slight evaluations. Only if they are related to environmental causes, these major alterations are generated.
When we speak of environmental causes, we refer to those factors that can cause hypertriglyceridemia and which are usually associated with genetic causes, further affecting the patient. These include risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, hypothyroidism and even the prescription of certain medications. This means that people with any of these conditions are more likely to have higher than normal levels of triglycerides.
Symptoms of high triglycerides
The disease caused by high triglycerides is known as hypertriglyceridemia and is characterized by the fact that it does not manifest any particular symptoms that allow it to be identified immediately. In general, this pathology is discovered in patients at the time of a routine blood test that shows high or very high triglyceride levels.
There are, however, some secondary diseases that can result from hypertriglyceridemia. These are acute pancreatitis, an inflammation in the pancreas caused by the concentration of triglycerides in the blood; cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease, a risk that starts from triglyceride levels above 200 mg/gL.
How are high triglycerides diagnosed?
To diagnose hypertriglyceridemia, it is necessary to perform a blood test after fasting for at least 12 hours. In order to verify and validate the first test performed. At least two blood tests are usually performed, unless the results are very specific, which means that it is not necessary to corroborate the study.
In addition, the diagnosis must be accompanied by a study of the environmental factors or causes that may be generating the problems of elevated triglyceride levels. This is why the first thing to do is to rule out that the patient has obesity, alcohol consumption or any medication that is causing the alteration.
Prohibited foods for people at risk of high triglyceride levels
In general, the recommended diet to stabilize blood triglyceride levels is low in fat and simple sugars. For this reason it is important to avoid sugary drinks, fructose and desserts. Similarly, it is important to completely eliminate alcohol consumption, since it is responsible for the increased production of triglycerides in the liver.
Refined flours also contribute to the increase in triglycerides. That is why it is important to eliminate from the diet foods such as white rice, bread and pasta, as well as any other product made from these flours. As a substitute for these foods, it is advisable to consume whole wheat pasta, brown rice and even other grains such as barley, oats, quinoa and other cereals. The diet of the patient with hypertriglyceridemia is based on fiber and whole-grain foods. Of course, it is always accompanied by the consumption of abundant water and physical activity.
How to lower high triglycerides?
In addition to the pharmacological treatment determined by the medical staff, there are some alternatives and complementary treatments that can help the patient to regulate the levels of triglycerides in the blood. For this purpose, the following hygienic-dietary measures are recommended:
- Reduce body weight, seeking the closest approximation to the patient’s ideal weight.
- Eliminate alcohol consumption completely.
- Avoid smoking.
- Eat a diet low in fats and sugars, increasing the consumption of fiber and nutrients that provide energy to the body.
- Include a physical exercise routine of at least 30 minutes daily. Preferably, increasing the intensity progressively.
It has been shown that these measures and modifications of harmful habits can be even more effective than pharmacological treatment. This is because they consider and modify the environmental conditions or causes to reduce the risk factors presented by the patients.
The drugs available to lower triglyceride levels are the fibrates: gemfibrozil and fenofibrate. These have omega-3 fatty acids. The variations in the administration of the drug vary depending on age, physical condition, weight, diet, among others, so it is important to consult a physician for treatment.