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Keeping your heart healthy means tracking not just your blood pressure and cholesterol levels but also looking out for the third contributor to heart disease: triglycerides.
Since triglyceride levels are often included in a cholesterol test, you might assume that these two terms are synonymous. They're not, and understanding the differences might help keep your heart healthy.
How Different Are They?
Triglycerides and cholesterol are fatty substances, but they serve two different purposes. Neither of these are soluble in blood, and they circulate throughout the body together with special proteins called lipoproteins.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance used for the synthesis of cells, hormones and nerves. Triglycerides are a form of fat stored in our body. They come from two sources: dietary fats, such as meats, oils and dairy foods, and what's synthesised in the liver.
Our bodies turn the surplus calories from the food we eat into triglycerides, which are stored as a source of energy. Over time, if these stored fats stay unused, they continue accumulating in our body, resulting in high triglyceride levels.
Why Should You Worry About High Triglyceride Levels?
A high triglyceride level is one of the most common risk factors for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and stroke. It's often indicative of other metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease and thyroid disorders, and it could also cause pancreatitis.
Heightened triglycerides can also occur as a side-effect of excessive alcohol consumption, intake of high-sugar foods, and certain medications, such as hormone replacement therapy.
In these cases, fat substances harden and narrow blood vessels. This is known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease. This, when coupled with other risk factors — high cholesterol, high blood glucose, high blood pressure and obesity — further elevates the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Such increased levels also interfere with the body's natural blood-clotting mechanism — and a blood clot could lead to a heart attack or a stroke.
What Do Healthy Triglyceride Levels Look Like?
Triglycerides are often measured as part of a test called a lipid profile or lipid panel, which uses a blood test to screen for abnormalities like cholesterol and triglycerides. Ideally, if you have your blood drawn after fasting for at least 12 hours, your triglyceride levels should fall within the following ranges, according to the Mayo Clinic:
How Can You Lower Your Triglyceride Levels?
Because triglycerides are unused calories that have been stored, using up these calories and reducing your calorie intake are two straightforward ways to lower them. There are also other ways, such as:
Follow these tips, and you'll be well on your way to lowering your triglyceride levels and maintaining them within a healthy range to reduce potential damage to your heart.
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