Diabetes and Lipid Clinic of Alaska




Triglycerides are a major source of energy. They are a type of fat found in your blood. They are the most common type of fat in your body. What you eat affects the triglyceride level in your blood. After eating sugary foods/drinks or drinking alcohol, your levels rise quickly.

When you eat food, your body uses the calories it needs for energy. Any extra calories are turned into triglycerides. These are stored in your fat cells to be used later. Hormones tell your fat cells when to release your triglycerides. Triglycerides are released when you need energy between meals.

What Causes High Triglycerides?

If you eat more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides. This is called hypertriglyceridemia. There are other causes of high triglycerides.

These are:

  • Obesity
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • An underactive thyroid
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol
  • Poor diet

Certain medicines also cause high triglycerides. These are:

  • Beta-blockers: drugs that treat heart conditions
  • Diuretics: drugs that remove water from the body
  • Estrogen: drugs that women take to increase hormone levels
  • Birth control pills

In rare cases, high triglycerides can also be caused by your genes.

Why Do High Triglycerides Matter?

High triglycerides (actually the VLDL which carries the triglycerides) can build up on the walls of certain blood vessels, called arteries. This build-up can make them narrow. Narrowed arteries slow or block blood flow to the heart. Blood brings needed oxygen to the heart. High triglycerides can lead to hardening of your arteries. They can also lead to thickening of your artery walls. This can raise your risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Your pancreas can also get inflamed if you have high triglycerides, but this is very rare. A person with high triglycerides may not have symptoms. Lots of people do not know they have high triglycerides. High triglycerides happen at any age and affect both men and women.

Know Your Levels

Your doctor can give you a blood test to check your triglyceride level. The same test checks your cholesterol level. You should not eat for 8 to 12 hours before taking this test. Tell your doctor about any prescription medicines you are taking. Also let your doctor know about any over-the-counter drugs and supplements you are taking. There are guidelines your doctor or will use to tell if you have high triglycerides. Your doctor will let you know what your level is.

The National Cholesterol Education Program Guidelines for Triglycerides


Less than 150 mg/dL

Borderline High

150 to 199 mg/dL


200 to 499 mg/dL

Very High

500 mg/dL or higher

You Can Lower Your Triglycerides

It is important to live a healthy life. This will help keep your triglyceride level low. There are many things you can do to help.

  • Lose weight
  • Eat fewer calories
  • Avoid sugary foods
  • Limit your cholesterol intake
  • Choose healthier fats
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking

According to the American Heart Association’s Dietary Guidelines, a healthy diet will include:

A Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

At least five servings a day

A Variety of Grain Products

At least half of which should be whole-grain foods

Fat-Free and Low-Fat Products

Fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, legumes (beans), skinless poultry, and lean meats

Fats and Oils with 2 Grams or Less of Saturated Fat per Tablespoon

Such as liquid and tub margarines, canola oil, and olive oil; nuts and seeds (in small amounts)

A Diet Low in Sodium

Less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day

Medicine Can Also Help Lower Triglycerides

There are medicines Dr Tanner can prescribe that can help lower your level of triglycerides. Talk to Dr Tanner about what works best for you. Be sure to tell him or her about the other medicines you are taking. This will help Dr Tanner pick the right one. If Dr Tanner prescribes something for you, it might help to make a schedule for taking your medicines, ordering refills, etc.  A schedule should be used if you are taking more than one medicine.

Other medicine tips:

  • Make taking your medicine part of your daily routine (eg, when you brush your teeth, when you watch the news).
  • Set an alarm clock or timer to alert you when it’s time to take your medicine.
  • Use a pillbox with sections for different times of the day. Some pillboxes have an alarm clock.
  • Don’t run out of medicine. Mark your calendar a week before it’s time for a refill.

The American Heart Association does not recommend the use of dietary supplements (such as over the counter fish oil) to treat high triglycerides. Only prescription drugs are reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure proper preparation, strength, and effectiveness.

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