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Triglycerides are a type of fat, or lipid, that play a crucial role in the body's energy economy.  Excess dietary calories are converted into triglycerides, which are then stored in fat cells. Later, hormones trigger triglyceride release between meals to provide a sustained energy source. 

Beyond their role in energy metabolism, triglycerides are an important biomarker for health monitoring. Elevated triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and pancreatitis, among other health issues. 

Consequently, measuring triglyceride levels through blood tests is a common practice in medical settings because it helps practitioners assess an individual's metabolic and cardiovascular health. 

Understanding triglycerides and their implications for health is essential for both patients and healthcare providers, as it underscores the importance of maintaining balanced lipid levels for overall well-being and disease prevention. 

What Are Triglycerides? 

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the bloodstream and fat cells, serving as a major source of energy for the body. Chemically, a triglyceride molecule consists of three fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone, a structure that makes triglycerides uniquely efficient in storing energy. 

When your body requires energy between meals, hormones stimulate the breakdown of triglycerides, releasing fatty acids into the bloodstream to be utilized by cells for energy production.

What Do Triglycerides Do?  The Role of Triglycerides in the Body

Triglycerides play several critical roles in the body: 

  • They act as an energy reserve, storing excess dietary calories in fat cells (adipocytes). This energy can later be mobilized to meet the body's demands when food is not available. 
  • They function in insulating and protecting the body
  • They facilitate the absorption and transport of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) through the bloodstream.

How Triglycerides Are Used for Energy

Fat is stored in fat cells, or adipocytes, as triglycerides.  The process of using triglycerides for energy begins with lipolysis, the breakdown of triglycerides into glycerol and free fatty acids inside adipocytes.

Through a complex interaction between hormones, the brain, and other cell-signaling molecules, when energy is needed free fatty acids are released into the bloodstream.  They are then taken up by various tissues like muscle, where they undergo beta-oxidation to produce energy in the form of ATP. 

Glycerol, the other product of triglyceride breakdown, can be used by the liver to generate glucose through gluconeogenesis, offering an additional energy source during prolonged fasting or intense physical activity.

The Difference Between Triglycerides and Other Types of Fats

“Fat" is a broad term that encompasses various types of lipids, which are differentiated according to their molecular structure.  Fat is essential for healthy cell membranes, brain and nervous tissue, and hormones.  It is also an alternate fuel source for energy production.   

Triglycerides are distinguished from other fats by their chemical structure and function in the body. 

Phospholipids, for instance, are key components of cell membranes, providing structure and protection to cells, while sterols like cholesterol are crucial for producing hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D.

Other fatty acids are converted to chemical messengers like eicosanoids, which regulate processes such as inflammation.   

This distinct role of triglycerides as the body's main form of stored energy highlights their importance in metabolic health and disease.

What Do High Triglycerides Mean?

Elevations in triglyceride levels can be an early indication of cardiometabolic dysfunction.  Additionally, a high triglyceride/HDL ratio can be an early indicator of insulin resistance and increasing inflammation, both of which drive cardiometabolic disease.  [2., 3., 6.]

What Raises Triglycerides?

Dietary Factors

The link between diet and triglyceride levels is well-established. Certain foods and dietary habits can lead to an increase in triglycerides, including:

  • High Sugar Intake: Consuming large amounts of sugar, especially from processed foods and sweetened beverages, can significantly raise triglyceride levels.
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol has a potent effect on triglyceride levels. Even small amounts can lead to a noticeable increase, particularly in susceptible individuals.
  • Refined Carbohydrates: Foods high in refined carbs, such as white bread, pastries, and other processed grains, can elevate triglycerides.
  • Saturated and Trans Fats: Diets high in saturated fats (found in red meat and dairy products) and trans fats (present in many fried and processed foods) can increase triglycerides.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle plays a pivotal role in managing triglycerides. Certain behaviors contribute to their elevation:

  • Physical Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle is linked to higher triglyceride levels. Regular exercise can help lower triglycerides and improve overall cardiovascular health.
  • Smoking: Tobacco use can exacerbate high triglyceride levels, adding to the cardiovascular risk.  [9.]
  • Obesity: Excess body weight, particularly around the waist, is associated with increased triglycerides, partly due to insulin resistance.

Genetic Factors

Genetics can also play a significant role in determining triglyceride levels. Some individuals are genetically predisposed to hypertriglyceridemia, meaning their bodies are naturally inclined to produce or retain higher levels of triglycerides. Familial hypertriglyceridemia is a condition that can be passed down through generations.

Medical Conditions

Several health conditions can lead to elevated triglyceride levels:

  • Hypothyroidism: Low levels of thyroid hormone can increase triglyceride levels.
  • Kidney Disease: Impaired kidney function can result in higher levels of triglycerides in the blood by slowing down processing of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins.  [5.]
  • Additionally, Diabetes and NAFLD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) are both closely related to elevations in triglycerides.  By the time diabetes and/or NAFLD is diagnosed, significant metabolic impairments have already occurred that manifest in part as elevated triglycerides.  

Impact of Certain Medications

Various medications can influence triglyceride levels, including:

  • Beta-Blockers: Used for high blood pressure and heart conditions, some beta-blockers can raise triglyceride levels.  [10.]
  • Diuretics: Certain water pills can increase triglycerides as they treat high blood pressure. [4.]
  • Steroids: Corticosteroids, used to treat inflammation, can elevate triglyceride levels.
  • Birth Control Pills: Some oral contraceptives can increase triglycerides, depending on their composition and the individual's response.

Triglyceride Lab Testing

Monitoring triglyceride levels is a critical aspect of managing cardiovascular health and assessing the risk of related diseases.  It requires a straightforward blood test, but understanding its nuances is essential for accurate assessment and effective management.

Blood Triglyceride Testing

The test for measuring triglyceride levels is typically part of a lipid panel, which also assesses total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.  A simple fasting blood sample is required.  

Pre-test Preparations: Fasting Requirements

Fasting before a triglyceride test is crucial for obtaining accurate results. Patients are generally advised to fast for 9 to 12 hours prior to the test; this means no eating or drinking anything other than water. 

Fasting is necessary because triglyceride levels can spike significantly after meals. The fasting requirement ensures that food intake does not temporarily elevate triglycerides, which could lead to a misinterpretation of an individual's baseline levels. 

Patients should also avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours before the test, as it can significantly affect triglyceride measurements.

Optimal Triglyceride Range

The results of a triglyceride test are categorized into several ranges, which help determine an individual's risk for developing heart disease and other health conditions:

  • Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • High: 200 to 499 mg/dL
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL and above

Triglyceride levels within the normal range are indicative of a lower risk for coronary artery disease, while levels in the high or very high categories may require lifestyle modifications and possibly medication to lower the risk of cardiovascular complications.  It may also signal a genetic tendency toward hypertriglyceridemia.

Interpreting Triglyceride Levels

It's important to note that triglyceride levels are just one part of a comprehensive cardiovascular risk assessment. Healthcare providers will consider other factors, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes status, and smoking habits, when evaluating a patient's overall risk and developing a treatment plan.

Interpretation by Practitioners

When interpreting triglyceride levels, practitioners consider where an individual's measurements fall within these ranges as a starting point for assessing cardiovascular risk. 

However, the interpretation goes beyond the numbers:

  • Normal levels suggest a lower risk of developing heart disease, but they do not guarantee immunity from heart-related issues, especially if other risk factors are present.
  • Borderline high levels may prompt a practitioner to recommend lifestyle changes and possibly further testing to understand the risk better.
  • High and very high levels often require immediate attention, including lifestyle interventions and possibly medication to lower the risk of acute pancreatitis, in addition to cardiovascular diseases.

Context of Overall Health Assessment

Triglyceride levels are not evaluated in isolation. Practitioners consider them within the broader context of an individual's overall health profile and risk factors. This comprehensive assessment includes:

  • Age, gender, and family history: These inherent factors can influence risk levels and the interpretation of triglyceride measurements.
  • Lifestyle factors: Diet, exercise habits, smoking status, and alcohol consumption significantly impact triglyceride levels and cardiovascular risk.
  • Medical history: Conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are closely linked with elevated triglyceride levels and cardiovascular risk.

Other Biomarkers To Test

Triglyceride levels are part of a larger group of blood tests known as a lipid panel, which also includes:

  • HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol: Often referred to as "good" cholesterol, higher levels of HDL can help lower the risk of heart disease. HDL works by removing other forms of cholesterol from the bloodstream.
  • LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol: Known as "bad" cholesterol, higher levels of LDL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. LDL contributes to the buildup of plaques in arteries, leading to atherosclerosis.
  • Total Cholesterol: The sum of HDL, LDL, and 20% of triglyceride levels. This number provides a general overview of cholesterol levels, but the individual components offer more detailed insights into health risks.

Interpreting triglyceride levels alongside these other biomarkers provides a more nuanced view of an individual's cardiovascular health. For instance, high triglycerides combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol significantly increase the 

How to Lower Triglycerides Naturally

Lowering triglycerides is crucial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving overall health. While medication may be necessary for some individuals, natural methods through diet, lifestyle modifications, and supplementation can be highly effective. Here's how to lower triglycerides naturally:

Reducing Intake of Sugars and Refined Carbohydrates:

Sugars and refined carbs are quickly converted into triglycerides in the body, leading to elevated levels. Cutting down on sugary beverages, sweets, and processed foods made with white flour can significantly reduce triglyceride levels.

Instead, focus on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that provide fiber and nutrients without the rapid spike in blood sugar and triglycerides.

Increasing Omega-3 Fatty Acid Consumption:

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as in flaxseeds and walnuts, have been shown to lower triglycerides.

Incorporating these foods into your diet or considering a fish oil supplement can help reduce triglyceride levels. Aim for two servings of fatty fish per week as recommended by dietary guidelines.

Regular Physical Activity:

Exercise plays a vital role in lowering triglycerides. Regular physical activity helps burn the triglycerides stored for energy, reducing their levels in the body.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming.

Weight Management Strategies:

Excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, is associated with high triglycerides. Losing weight can significantly lower triglyceride levels.

Focus on a balanced diet and regular exercise for sustainable weight loss. Even a modest weight loss of 5-10% of body weight can lead to a significant reduction in triglycerides.

Reducing Alcohol Consumption:

Alcohol can have a dramatic effect on triglyceride levels, even in small amounts. If you have high triglycerides, consider reducing your alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether.

Discuss with your healthcare provider about an appropriate level of alcohol consumption for your specific health situation.

Fish Oil:

Fish oil supplements, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), have been extensively studied for their ability to lower triglycerides.

For individuals with high triglycerides, higher doses may be recommended, but it's important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the right dosage and to avoid potential interactions with other medications.

Niacin (Vitamin B3):

Niacin can help lower triglycerides by reducing the liver's production of VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein), which is converted into LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the blood. However, niacin should be used under medical supervision because of potential side effects and interactions with other medications.

Fiber Supplements:

Soluble fiber found in supplements like psyllium husk can help reduce triglycerides by interfering with fat and cholesterol absorption in the intestine.

Incorporating soluble fiber into your diet through foods or supplements can aid in lowering triglyceride levels.

By integrating these dietary adjustments, lifestyle modifications, and evidence-based supplementation into your daily routine, you can naturally lower your triglycerides. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have existing health conditions or are taking medications.

Resources and Further Reading

National Lipid Association Handout: Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a kind of fat in your blood that comes from the food you eat. When you consume more calories than your body needs right away, these extra calories are changed into triglycerides. They are then kept in your fat cells, acting as a backup energy source. When your body requires additional energy, like between meals or during physical activity, hormones release these stored triglycerides into your bloodstream. They play a crucial role in your body's energy process, supplying the energy needed for various functions, such as muscle movement and organ function.
If Your Levels Are High
High triglyceride levels might mean that your body isn't turning the calories you eat into energy as efficiently as it should. This could be due to various reasons, such as eating a diet rich in carbs or fats, not getting enough exercise, drinking too much alcohol, or having certain genetic factors. Some medications, like beta blockers, diuretics, or steroids, could also cause high triglycerides. Additionally, high levels might be linked to health conditions like obesity, an underactive thyroid, kidney disease, or diabetes. It's important to remember that high triglycerides by themselves don't cause symptoms, but they can contribute to the hardening or thickening of your arteries, which may increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
Symptoms of High Levels
Symptoms of high levels of triglycerides are typically not noticeable. However, in some extreme cases, it could lead to conditions like pancreatitis, which may present symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
If Your Levels are Low
Low triglyceride levels might suggest a few things about how your body is handling energy. It could mean that your body isn't storing energy well, maybe because you have a fast metabolism or you're not eating enough fats. It might also mean that your body is using up energy faster than it can replace it, which could happen if you're doing a lot of physical activity or not getting enough nutrients. Some medications, like statins or fibrates, can also cause lower triglyceride levels. Conditions that might lead to low triglycerides include not getting enough nutrients (malnutrition), an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), or problems with absorbing nutrients from food (malabsorption conditions).
Symptoms of Low Levels
Symptoms of low levels of triglycerides are often not noticeable, as they don't typically cause physical discomfort or visible changes. However, if the low levels are due to an underlying condition, symptoms related to that condition may be present. For instance, malnutrition could lead to weight loss and fatigue, while hyperthyroidism might cause increased heart rate and anxiety.
See References

[1.] Ahmed S, Shah P, Ahmed O. Biochemistry, Lipids. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from:

[2.] Alcántara-Alonso E, Molinar-Ramos F, González-López JA, Alcántara-Alonso V, Muñoz-Pérez MA, Lozano-Nuevo JJ, Benítez-Maldonado DR, Mendoza-Portillo E. High triglyceride to HDL-cholesterol ratio as a biochemical marker of severe outcomes in COVID-19 patients. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2021 Aug;44:437-444. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2021.04.020. Epub 2021 May 7. PMID: 34330502; PMCID: PMC8103772.

[3.] da Luz PL, Favarato D, Faria-Neto JR Jr, Lemos P, Chagas AC. High ratio of triglycerides to HDL-cholesterol predicts extensive coronary disease. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2008 Aug;63(4):427-32. doi: 10.1590/s1807-59322008000400003. PMID: 18719750; PMCID: PMC2664115. 

[4.] Rohlfing JJ, Brunzell JD. The effects of diuretics and adrenergic-blocking agents on plasma lipids. West J Med. 1986 Aug;145(2):210-8. PMID: 2876554; PMCID: PMC1306877.

[5.] Rosenstein K, Tannock LR. Dyslipidemia in Chronic Kidney Disease. [Updated 2022 Feb 10]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Blackman MR, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA):, Inc.; 2000-. Available from:

[6.] Sokup A, Góralczyk B, Góralczyk K, Rość D. Triglycerides as an early pathophysiological marker of endothelial dysfunction in nondiabetic women with a previous history of gestational diabetes. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2012 Feb;91(2):182-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0412.2011.01289.x. PMID: 21954994.

[7.] Thompson BR, Lobo S, Bernlohr DA. Fatty acid flux in adipocytes: the in's and out's of fat cell lipid trafficking. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2010 Apr 29;318(1-2):24-33. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2009.08.015. Epub 2009 Aug 29. PMID: 19720110; PMCID: PMC2826553. 

[8.] UpToDate. 

[9.] van der Plas A, Antunes M, Pouly S, de La Bourdonnaye G, Hankins M, Heremans A. Meta-analysis of the effects of smoking and smoking cessation on triglyceride levels. Toxicol Rep. 2023 Mar 4;10:367-375. doi: 10.1016/j.toxrep.2023.03.001. PMID: 36926662; PMCID: PMC10011683. 

[10.] Wolinsky H. The effects of beta-adrenergic blocking agents on blood lipid levels. Clin Cardiol. 1987 Oct;10(10):561-6. doi: 10.1002/clc.4960101010. PMID: 2889552. 

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