Triglycerides: What Makes Them High?

Triglycerides: What Makes Them High?

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Elevated triglycerides increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Triglycerides play an important role in your health, from their involvement in cell membranes to the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. Elevated triglyceride levels, however, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates kills approximately 600,000 Americans each year. Certain diseases, medications, diet and your weight can all affect triglycerides.

Risk Factors

Triglyceride levels are considered elevated once they rise above 150 milligrams per deciliter. Individuals with a diagnosis of diabetes, hypothyroidism and nephrotic syndrome are at risk for elevated triglycerides. Certain medications can cause a rise in triglycerides, including atypical anti-psychotics, beta blockers, bile acid binding resins, estrogen, glucocorticoids, immunosuppressants, isotretinoin, protease inhibitors, tamoxifen and thiazides. Furthermore, diets excessive in calories and alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity are all risk factors for elevated triglycerides.

Body Composition

While obesity is a risk factor for elevated triglyceride levels, the location of fat affects the degree of elevation. Research published in the journal "Obesity" in 2009 found that those with large waist circumferences and excess fat stored in the abdominal region typically had higher levels of triglycerides, while those with large hip circumferences often had reduced levels of triglycerides. The location of fat may affect its biological function. For example, fat cells in the abdominal region have been shown to produce tumor necrosis factor, a harmful chemical that may be associated with several diseases, including insulin resistance and cancer. Fat cells in the hips have not been shown to produce tumor necrosis factor.

Carbohydrates and Triglycerides

While excess calories may cause obesity and lead to higher triglycerides, the type of nutrient consumed also affects triglyceride levels. Research published in the "Journal of Lipid Research" in 2000 compared diets where 75 percent of calories came from carbohydrate and 10 percent came from fat -- high carbohydrate, low fat -- versus diets where 55 percent of calories came from carbohydrate and 30 percent came from fat -- moderate carbohydrate, moderate fat. Those who ate the low-fat, high-carb diet had higher levels of triglycerides at the end of the study, regardless of whether they were lean or obese.

Lower Your Triglycerides

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains and lean meats to help lower triglycerides. Weight loss is also an effective method to lower triglycerides. A study published in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" in 2002 found that obese individuals who walked 25 to 30 minutes five times a week and ate 1,200 to 1,300 calories a day for 12 weeks lost more weight and lowered their triglyceride levels compared to the group that only exercised. Although extreme caloric restriction may not be realistic for many, eating healthy and exercising will help you maintain a healthy weight and may help lower triglycerides.

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