Triglycerides Count in Managing Heart Disease Risk

August 2008 - Cholesterol, both good and bad, gets plenty of attention when the subject is reducing the risk of heart disease. Yet triglycerides, a form of fat that circulates in the blood, merit similar attention, according to the August issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Some studies suggest that the increase in heart disease risk from elevated triglycerides may rival that of high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol. Another concern is that high triglyceride levels increase the risk of pancreatitis, a painful, life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas.

The National Cholesterol Education program recommends triglyceride levels below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/DL). Mayo Clinic cardiologists recommend triglyceride levels below 100 mg/DL.

For most people, elevated triglycerides are caused by three related factors: consuming too many calories, inadequate exercise, and being overweight or obese. As food is consumed, the digestive system makes triglycerides, an important source of energy. Once immediate energy needs have been met, extra triglycerides can be stored in the body's fat cells for use later.

Other factors can increase triglyceride levels. They include health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney or liver disease; medications including thiamine diuretics, beta-blockers or hormone therapies; and alcohol. For some people, alcohol alone dramatically raises triglycerides.

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A doctor can develop a treatment plan to help lower tryglyerides. Weight loss from diet changes and exercise are the first steps. Supplemental niacin or high-dose fish oil are often effective. Drugs in the statin class can have a modest benefit. A physician also can evaluate whether medications or other health conditions are part of the problem.

Source: Mayo Clinic