Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Cholesterol management health centre

Select a topic to explore more.
Select An Article

Triglycerides and lowering triglyceride levels

Good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat - sometimes it seems like you need a programme to keep track of all the fatty players in the story of heart disease.

In some ways, the molecules called triglycerides are the easiest to understand. Simply put, triglycerides are fat in the blood, and a high triglyceride level can increase the risk of heart disease. Just what your triglyceride levels mean and how much lowering triglycerides reduces heart disease risk is less clear.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are the main form of fat in the body. When you think of fat developing and being stored in your hips or belly, you're thinking of triglycerides. Consider these things:

  • The fat we eat exists in relatively huge molecules inside food. Triglycerides are the end product of digesting and breaking down these bulky fats.
  • Any extra food we eat that's not used for activity right away - carbohydrates, fat, or protein - is also chemically converted into triglycerides.
  • Triglycerides are then bundled together into globules. These are transported through the blood. Proteins (called lipoproteins) help transport these triglyceride blobs.
  • The triglycerides are taken up by adipose (fat) cells, to be used for energy if food isn't available later- or during your next diet.

Triglycerides are measured using a common test called a lipid profile. It's the same blood test that checks "good" and "bad" cholesterol levels. Within the UK the NHS has now suggested people aged 40-74 have a vascular health check which will include a lipid profile.

Triglyceride levels are checked after an overnight fast. Fat from a meal or other parts of the meal that get converted into triglycerides can artificially raise the triglyceride levels on the test.

What are normal and high triglyceride levels?

According to the cholesterol charity Heart UK fasting triglyceride levels should be below 1.7 mmol/L for both men and women.

High triglyceride levels are a risk factor for heart disease. Experts disagree, though, on just how bad of an effect high triglyceride levels by themselves have on the heart.

Part of the dispute stems from the fact that high triglycerides have a tendency to "run with" other risk factors. High triglyceride levels often coexist with high total cholesterol and LDL (" bad cholesterol"), low HDL (" good cholesterol"), and diabetes.

Triglycerides may be an "enabler" of other heart disease risk factors. That is, high triglyceride levels could multiply the bad effects of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking.

Some research also suggests that high triglycerides are a more important risk factor for women than for men, although this is also disputed.

One point is clear, though: A healthy diet and exercise plan can lower triglyceride levels, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Cholesterol newsletter

The latest heart health news and information, delivered to your inbox.
Sign Up

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

man holding back
Myths & facts about back pain
hands grabbing knee
How to keep your joints healthy
bowl of soup
Small changes that lead to weight loss
man administering eyedrops
Taking on eye allergies
79x79_hairloss_in_women.jpg
Do you know what causes hair loss?
woman exercising
Exercises for low back pain
infected toenail
How to handle toenail fungus
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning for a healthy home
rash on skin
Soothe skin and prevent flare-ups
mother and child
Could your baby be allergic to milk?
pregnant woman eating healthy salad
Nutrition needs before pregnancy