Do you have hypertriglyceridemia? Although it might sound like a rare disease, unfortunately, it’s all too common and becoming more prevalent. Otherwise known as high triglycerides, if you have hypertriglyceridemia, it means you have too much fat circulating in your bloodstream. 

And if that sounds like a bad thing, well, you don’t have to be a Nurse Practitioner (NP) or functional medicine practitioner like me to realize that it is.

According to the American College of Cardiology, over 40 million adults in the U.S.—roughly 1 in 3 adults—have hypertriglyceridemia. And let me explain why that matters…

What Are Triglycerides? 

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body. 

And when it comes to your triglyceride levels, five primary factors control it: 

  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Calorie intake
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Physical activity

Triglycerides are awesome—if you were born a long time ago, long before industrial food became so pervasive. 

You see, the purpose of triglycerides is to provide us with energy when we need it in the future. This served our distant paleolithic ancestors well. Fortunately, we no longer have to outrun predators or stalk prey to stay alive. 

But because of our modern, sedentary lifestyles, we have way more stored energy (body fat) than we need. Triglycerides, simply put, are the result of excess calories stored in fat cells. 

Many people confuse triglycerides with cholesterol. While they’re both a type of fat in the body, they serve two completely different functions. As I said, triglycerides are stored energy (like stored energy in batteries), whereas cholesterol builds cell membranes (the outer wall of the cell) and serves as a precursor to sex hormones and vitamin D. 

The Dangers Of High Triglyceride Levels

Having very high triglyceride levels raises your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Pancreatitis (a serious inflammation of the pancreas, the organ responsible for cranking out insulin, the hormone that keeps blood sugar levels in check.)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).

    And if that’s not bad enough, high levels also lower your levels of the so-called “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein or HDL (which absorbs cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver). 

Diet & High Triglyceride Levels

Unfortunately, well over 90% of the items sold in supermarkets outside of the produce aisle can elevate your triglyceride levels. 

I’m talking about virtually every single snacky food like chips, crackers, pretzels, goldfish, and ice cream, etc. Plus, pretty much every item sold in the bread and grains aisles, including English muffins, microwave oatmeal, cereal, bagels, pasta…

What do all these foods have in common? They have tons of carbs and are very low in fiber. So why do high-carb foods spike triglycerides? Because carbohydrates convert into sugar when not burned, and if you’re not walking off that meal, the sugar or other excess calories (from protein and fat) gets stored in the fat cells as triglycerides. 

Alcohol also increases triglyceride levels, and not just because it’s made from fermenting sugar. There are several reasons why alcohol can spike your triglyceride levels. One way is that it interferes with fats metabolism. That martini and steak? Your liver will prioritize processing the alcohol at the expense of releasing fat-digesting bile. The end result is that triglycerides aren’t effectively processed, leading to higher serum levels.

The bottom line is that if you consume more calories than you’re burning, you will put on more weight, and your triglyceride levels will also go up. 

Ways To Lower Triglyceride Levels

Unfortunately, if you have a family history of high triglycerides, eating a healthier diet and exercising may not be enough; you may need to take medication like a fibrate class of drugs (Tricor, for example). 

But for most people making the following healthier lifestyle choices can lower triglyceride levels to a healthy level (under 150 mg/dl). 

  1. Eating a Mediterranean Diet: Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein (fish, broiled chicken; no cold cuts, salami or other cured meats and very little red meat), beans, a moderate amount of healthy grains (barley, brown rice, millet) and some healthy fats (avocados, nuts and seeds, olives, olive oil)
  2. Get more exercise: It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, just go for walks or work in your garden, or take a gentle yoga or stretching class.  
  3. Control your weight: By eating healthier food and fewer calories in general, combined with more regular physical activity, you’ll lose a little weight, which can have a positive effect on your triglyceride levels.

Not sure how to lead a healthier lifestyle? That’s my mission in life! Call me at 1.800.964-5091 to get started.

Until next time,

Jenna Witt, NP
Certified Health Coach & Functional Medicine Practitioner

Author

  • Jenna Witt

    Jenna Witt has been a Nurse Practitioner since 2012. After working for five years in primary care at a Federal Qualified Health Center (FQHC), caring for the uninsured and underinsured, in 2016, Jenna began working in the local ER in Northeast Nebraska. Jenna has also earned a Master Certification in Health Coaching through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. She is also a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, an integrative form of medicine that seeks to unveil the root causes of health concerns and disorders. In 2020, Jenna founded Fundamental Wellness. Her emphasis is helping those with emotional eating, blood sugar management disorders, chronic pain, and low energy. Through her skills as an integrative health expert, Jenna helps her clients optimize their nutrition and sleep, learn simple stress management techniques, and identify which movement/exercise program is best suited for them. Jenna is currently welcoming new clients, which she sees at the Diabetes & Wellness Clinic in Norfolk, NE.

    View all posts