Unlike lowering cholesterol, there are fewer people who think about lowering triglycerides. In fact, these neutral fats make up the largest part of blood fat levels and, like cholesterol, can lead to cardiovascular diseases if the level is consistently too high. Find out here how to lower triglycerides and find out which foods are helpful in doing so.
What are triglycerides?
Essentially, triglycerides are a type of fat that circulates in the blood. A blood test is done to determine the triglyceride levels. The TRG value indicates how high the triglyceride levels are. Most triglycerides are absorbed from fatty foods and are produced by the body itself.
When we eat, the body stores the energy it does not need in the form of triglycerides. Those triglycerides are then stored in the fat cells. After a period of time without food, the triglycerides are broken down again with the help of hormones in order to generate energy. Levels up to 150 mg/dL, or 1.7 mmol/L, can be considered normal. The optimal values are below 100 mg/dL.
Why lower triglycerides?
The human body itself needs triglycerides. They provide energy, protect against cold and are an important part of the metabolism. But if too many of these fats are present in the blood (more than 150 mg/dl), it can lead to arteriosclerosis, just like cholesterol. This in turn affects the blood vessels and is considered a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
Furthermore, high blood fats can also lead to inflammation of the pancreas. Increased triglyceride levels are often a sign that something is wrong with the metabolism. People with diabetes, obesity or kidney disease, for example, often have triglycerides that are too high.
What to eat with high triglyceride levels?
This is a common question asked by many people with these conditions. Actually, the choice of food has a direct influence on the levels of triglycerides. Therefore, nutrition and the right combination of food are important factors in lowering triglycerides.
The influence of lifestyle on lowering triglycerides
A lifestyle change can reduce triglycerides by up to 70 percent, depending on the cause of the increased levels. Avoiding alcohol and fast-digesting carbohydrates is the most effective way to control triglycerides.
Losing weight has a positive effect on the blood fat levels of overweight people. Especially in people who have a high amount of abdominal fat, losing weight can significantly lower the levels.
A meta-analysis showed that triglyceride levels are reduced by 1.5 mg/dL for every kilogram lost. However, the effect varies greatly from person to person – in some people the levels were reduced after only a few kilograms, whereas in others the weight loss only led to a slight reduction in the levels.
People who have an active physical lifestyle are more likely to have triglyceride levels in the normal range. Conversely, non-athletic people have higher levels of triglycerides within muscle cells. That reflects the ineffective utilisation of fat. This is because exercise leads to a breakdown and metabolism of triglycerides.
The degree to which levels can be lowered through exercise depends on factors such as baseline levels, intensity, duration and calorie consumption. If the values are already within the normal range, exercise lowers the values by an average of 5 percent. If the initial values are higher, exercise can reduce the values by up to 15-20 per cent. In order to achieve a noticeable effect, at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise – spread over the week – are recommended.
There are many ways in which stress affects the body. For one thing, it activates the sympathetic nervous system and the release of certain neurotransmitters from the adrenal medulla. This triggers a stimulating effect. Additionally, stress leads to higher cortisol levels. These neurotransmitters and cortisol lead to higher blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
Moreover, stress leads to the release of so-called chemokines. Chemokines are signalling proteins that the body actually releases as an immune response to bacteria or viruses. Studies in animals show that stress affects hormones that control our eating behaviour. These chemokines and altered hormone levels also contribute to insulin resistance. In turn, the increased glucose levels and insulin resistance have a negative effect on fat metabolism.
Given these findings, it’s not surprising that there are links between higher stress levels and the development of metabolic syndrome. For instance, a summary analysis shows that those who experience more stress in everyday life also have higher triglyceride levels on average. In this context, stress triggered by work seems to have a stronger influence on metabolism. The reason for this, however, remains to be clarified.
Likewise, it is not clear from these studies to what extent stress has a direct effect on fat metabolism. This is because stress often leads to binge eating, which also affects triglycerides and other risk factors. Still, the negative effects on physical and mental health cannot be disregarded.
Alcohol consumption leads to an increased formation of triglycerides in the liver. Furthermore, alcohol hinders the breakdown of triglyceride-rich transport particles, which are transported to the liver.
When it comes to alcohol, it is the quantity that makes the poison. One glass of wine in the evening does not directly lead to increased triglycerides. Drinking more than 300 – 400 ml of wine per day, however, leads to significantly increased triglyceride levels. Especially excessive consumption coupled with a high intake of saturated fatty acids leads to a strong increase in the values.
If the values are moderately elevated, it is advisable to reduce alcohol consumption to a maximum of one glass per evening. Avoiding alcohol already leads to a reduction in values for many people. If the values are above 500 mg/dL, it is advisable to completely avoid alcohol in order to prevent inflammation of the pancreas.
The influence of diet on lowering triglycerides
In addition to the factors mentioned above, the diet also has the potential to keep triglycerides within a healthy range. A change in diet can reduce the levels by 20 – 50 percent.
Carbohydrates, along with alcohol, have the greatest influence on triglycerides. Diets that are very high in carbohydrates and low in fat are known to increase the formation and delay the breakdown of triglyceride-containing carrier proteins.
Besides the quantity of carbohydrates, the quality of the carbohydrates is also important. Fast-digesting carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed by the body. This results in a rapid and high rise in blood sugar levels and is considered unhealthy. By replacing simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates, there is a slower rise in blood sugar levels, which benefits fat metabolism. Easy-to-digest carbohydrates primarily include added sugars in manufactured products or soft drinks.
Remember: the less sugar, the better. According to the American Heart Association, the suggested daily intake of added sugars is as follows: Women a maximum of 100 calories or about 6 teaspoons, men a maximum of 150 calories or about 9 teaspoons. Likewise, white bread, white flour products and juices provide carbohydrates that are quickly digested. For this reason, it is advisable to replace these products piece by piece with whole-grain products, pulses and vegetables.
Epidemiological and clinical studies show that people who follow the Mediterranean diet have lower triglyceride levels on average. In the Mediterranean diet, there is a lot of fruit and vegetables, nuts, whole grains and olive oil in the diet. This is accompanied by a higher intake of unsaturated fatty acids and dietary fibre, which has a positive effect on blood lipids.
A large-scale study showed that, in contrast to a comparatively healthy diet with a lower fat content, the high-fat Mediterranean diet lowered triglycerides by 10 – 15 percent more. This evidence shows that low-fat diets do not offer a perk in lowering triglycerides. The quality of the fatty acids is more important.
In the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is an important component. It mainly contains monounsaturated fatty acids. Generally speaking, vegetable fats have a positive effect on blood triglyceride levels compared to animal fats.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids belong to the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Especially the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, have a positive effect on blood lipid levels. Each gram of fatty acids consumed can reduce triglycerides by 5 – 10 percent.
In comparison to the exclusive intake of statins, the combination with the fatty acid EPA reduces the cardiovascular risk by an additional 53 percent. The preventive effect of EPA, though, was only observed in people whose blood lipid levels were in the unhealthy range.
Yet the protective effect is not solely due to the improvement of triglycerides. These fatty acids also have a positive effect on other risk factors. Thus, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-arrhythmic, anti-thrombotic, anti-arteriosclerotic and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as a positive effect on blood pressure and vascular function.
According to the German Nutrition Society, the recommended intake is 250-500 mg of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are primarily found in fish and seafood. Some types of seaweeds offer themselves as a vegetarian source. They include, for instance, the red algae that make up nori leaves, or microalgae such as chlorella or spirulina.
Nevertheless, a sufficient amount to expect positive effects cannot be obtained from plant sources. Instead, the body is able to form long-chain fatty acids from the short-chain fatty acid ALA. This can be found in considerable quantities in flax and chia seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil. This conversion is, however, physiologically limited. Thus, the recommended amounts cannot be completely compensated.
Although the doses used in the studies are pharmacological doses, people can hardly reach them through diet alone, particularly not through a vegetarian or fish-free diet. As a supplement, omega-3 fatty acids in capsule form serve as food supplements that can be found in supermarkets or drugstores.
Compared to medicines, the advantages of omega-3 fatty acids are that they do not have any side effects. Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids can be combined with other medicines as desired.
Niacin (vitamin B3)
Nicotinic acid or Niacin is a member of the B vitamins. By reducing the formation of triglycerides in the liver, it supports the breakdown mechanism of triglyceride-rich transport proteins. Consequently, regular intake of nicotinic acid improves triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Despite the ability of nicotinic acid to effectively lower triglycerides, nicotinic acid is rarely used in clinical practice. This is because of frequently reported adverse side effects when therapeutically effective amounts are used. The most frequent side effects are vascular dilatation and flushing, reported by 70 percent of patients.
Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods. High-fiber diets have a positive effect on several risk factors. According to a study, people who eat a high-fiber diet have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels on average. The difference was found to be greater the higher the fiber intake.
The recommendation is therefore to consume as much dietary fiber as possible. Consumption of 35 g per day is considered the target value. This lowers the risk of premature death by 10 – 48 percent. A high-fiber diet is associated, for example, with a 26 percent lower stroke incident rate. The average consumption of dietary fiber in Germany is 23 to 25 g. This is why it is worthwhile to increase the intake of dietary fiber.
Roughly no dietary fiber is digested and it serves as an energy source for the intestinal bacteria. As a result, dietary fiber has a positive effect on intestinal function. It can be found in considerable quantities in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains. With an increase in fiber intake, it is recommended to drink more water as well. After all, dietary fiber draws water from the body and then literally swells up. Furthermore, dietary fiber keeps you full for a long time and thus prevents cravings and binge eating.
Phytosterols are found in the cell walls of fat-rich plants. Their chemical structure is similar to that of human cholesterol. Therefore, phytosterols block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine. Consequently, the body eliminates more cholesterol. Furthermore, phytosterols have a positive effect on the formation and activity of crucial molecules for lipid metabolism.
Research showed that consumption of phytosterols is capable of lowering bad LDL cholesterol levels. Moreover, phytosterols were shown to additionally lower triglycerides in people with high triglyceride levels. The higher the initial levels and dosage, the greater the effect.
Most phytosterols are found in seeds, kernels, nuts, and nut products. Vegetable oils and grains are also good sources of them. The average dietary intake today is 200-400 mg. People on plant-based diets, such as vegetarians, have an intake of about 500 – 600 mg. Scientists believe that our ancestors consumed an average of 1000 mg daily.
Suggested intakes of phytosterols, at 2 g daily, are well above these levels. It is considered that this amount is necessary to have a significant effect on cholesterol levels. Therefore, phytosterols have been added to a number of products in recent years. Among these are products such as low-fat yogurt, margarine, and milk. Phytosterols are also available in the form of dietary supplements at pharmacies.
Home remedies to lower triglycerides
Other than medical methods and taking drugs, there are some home remedies which can help you lower triglycerides. In the following we will share some of them with you.
Apple Cider Vinegar
As early as 400 BC, Hippocrates was already using apple cider vinegar as a treatment for a wide variety of diseases. Over the past few years, scientists have investigated the therapeutic potential of apple cider vinegar in studies. Apple cider vinegar contains polyphenolic compounds that are beneficial for health. It contains anti-oxidative flavonoids, which are effective in the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
Apple cider vinegar consumption has been proven effective in improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels in animal studies. A study with humans also showed that triglycerides improved in those who consumed apple cider vinegar daily. The same effect did not occur in the control group.
Moreover, its consumption had a positive effect on body weight, despite the fact that the groups differed only minimally in terms of energy intake and consumption and meals. It remains to be clarified what the underlying mechanism is. It may be that the acetic acid contained in the food blocks the buildup of fat. In the study, consumption of 15 ml daily – less than a small shot – proved sufficient to show these effects.
Besides water, tea is considered the healthiest beverage out there. With very low calories and contained phytochemicals, the consumption of tea can be recommended without reservation. Nevertheless, tea does not have therapeutically effective properties to significantly reduce blood fat levels.
A study showed that daily consumption of green or black tea for 3-6 months lowered triglycerides only very slightly. This implies that additional consumption of tea seems to have a minimal effect on blood fat levels. Conversely, the replacement of sugary beverages with tea can be considered quite positive.
Capsaicin in cayenne pepper actually helps lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in the blood. The cayenne pepper also reduces platelet aggregation, enhances blood flow, reduces the rate of oxidation, hence reducing any damage to the triglycerides and cholesterol. To use Cayenne pepper, add ½ to 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to a cup of hot water and drink the mixture 2 times a day for several weeks in a row.
Cinnamon includes cinnamaldehydes with a blood diluting effect. Together they stop undesirable clumping of blood platelets and reduce inflammation in the body. If consumed regularly, cinnamon further helps to lower cholesterol levels, reduce triglycerides and normalize blood sugar levels. To use cinnamon, add ¼ teaspoon of powdered cinnamon daily to oatmeal, in smoothies, soups or salads.
One of the best ways to lower triglycerides is to eat garlic. The allicin contained and the powerful antioxidants in garlic help to lower blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In order to specifically lower triglycerides, raw garlic is mainly helpful. In contrast to cooked garlic, it has lipid-lowering characteristics.
To use garlic, eat 2 to 3 raw garlic cloves every day on an empty stomach with a little lemon water. Repeat the procedure for several months. Additionally, fresh garlic can be added to salad dressings and sauces.
Coriander seeds have a hypolipidemic effect. They stimulate fat metabolism and help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Simultaneously, they help to increase the number of good HDL cholesterol in the blood. To use coriander seeds, put 1 to 2 teaspoons of coriander seed powder in a pot with 1 cup of water. Let the water come to a boil. After that, strain the seeds and let the coriander tea cool down. Drink the tea 1 to 2 times a day for several months in a row.
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Medication to lower triglycerides
In cases where blood fat levels are associated with high risk, some medications are available that effectively and rapidly lower levels. The use of medication should be considered for triglyceride levels above 400 mg/dL. The reason is that it can then be assumed that the values will rise to over 1000 mg/dL after a meal, which has a negative effect on health.
Dietary statins are the most commonly used medications to improve blood fat levels. Based on overall risk and cholesterol levels, statins are used to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In addition to lowering triglycerides, statins also improve cholesterol levels by increasing the cleavage of triglycerides and eliminating triglyceride-rich transport proteins. This is because statins drive down the body’s production of cholesterols. As a result, more LDL receptors are formed, so the liver absorbs more LDL cholesterol, resulting in less LDL cholesterol circulating in the blood.
Statins are able to lower triglycerides directly by 10-20 percent. For individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease or with type 2 diabetes, statin use is associated with fewer cardiovascular events. Common side effects of high-dose statins include muscle pain and elevated liver enzyme levels.
Alongside statins, fibrates are also used to improve blood fat levels. For one thing, fibrates activate enzymes that are responsible for the breakdown of triglycerides. For another, fibrates block cholesterol synthesis in the liver and the release of LDL particles. This prevents excessive cholesterol from being transported from the liver into the blood, thereby promoting arteriosclerosis. On the other hand, fibrates lead to a 10 percent increase in the production of HDL particles, which transport the cholesterol back to the liver.
Depending on the individual, fibrates are capable of reducing levels between 20-70 percent. When used in combination with statins, the use of fibrates does not appear to result in any added benefit.
Indeed, fibrates have been shown to interfere with other medications, particularly statins. Thus, fibrates are prescribed only in exceptional cases. Potential side effects of fibrates include inflammatory muscle disease, gallstone disease, or elevated renal function values. Increased renal values decrease again after discontinuation of fibrates and do not trigger renal damage. Inflammatory muscle disease is often a consequence of concomitant administration of statins and fibrates.
The use of fibrates is useful in those with a very high risk of cardiovascular disease and a persistent dyslipidemia. This includes, for example, those in whom arterial calcification continues to progress even though LDL cholesterol levels are within the normal range.
For severely increased triglycerides above 1000 mg/dL, a decision is made on a case-by-case basis as to whether the use of fibrates in treatment is appropriate or not.
In combination with low-dose statins, ezetimibe can be used to further reduce cardiovascular risk. It has a beneficial effect on the amount of fat in the blood after a meal. Additionally, Ezetimibe lowers the level of triglyceride-rich transport proteins, in addition to the effect of statins. Furthermore, it reduces the absorption of cholesterol, thus improving cholesterol levels.
Ezetimibe indirectly affects triglycerides, but causes a reduction of an additional 5 – 10 percent. Still, it must be said that the effect on triglyceride levels must be classified as rather small. Ezetimibe is also considered a very safe drug and is very well tolerated.
10 Tips to Fight High Triglycerides
High blood triglyceride levels increase the risk of coronary heart disease (such as stroke) and atherosclerosis. High triglycerides are also almost always associated with low values of HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) and, frequently, a tendency to obesity and diabetic disease as well as high blood pressure values; nowadays, doctors define this condition, as a whole, as ‘multimetabolic syndrome’.
A clear improvement in the severity of this complicated (and risky) situation can usually be accomplished simply by appropriate lifestyle modifications and physical activity.
Keep your ‘fit weight’
The Triglycerides essentially play in our body the function of energy reserve: the excess calories, therefore, are transformed into these substances, to be stored easily. Those with a high level of triglycerides in the blood, then, must first of all reduce the intake of all foods to balance the caloric intake (the ‘inputs’) with the calorie consumption (the ‘outputs’), and thus reduce weight. By better weight control, triglyceride levels will be reduced.
‘Complex’ Sugars are Better than ‘Simple’ Sugars
Slow-digesting complex sugars, in which Italian-style pasta is especially rich, are more slowly absorbed by the intestine than simple sugars, or even faster-digesting complex sugars, such as those contained in bread and potatoes. Therefore, as they enter the bloodstream less quickly, they also stimulate a lower production of triglycerides by the liver. In some individuals, moreover, fructose represents a powerful stimulus to the production of triglycerides. You should limit the use of fruits with high fructose if you have high triglyceride levels.
More vegetables and legumes
Veggies are rich in dietary fiber, which plays an effective role in controlling the intestinal absorption of fats. Fiber contained in legumes (which are, among other things, rich in slowly digestible sugars) is especially interesting from this point of view. Besides, vegetable fiber is hardly sensitive to cooking: the effect described, therefore, is maintained even in cooked vegetables.
Use vegetable oils, rich in unsaturated fats, instead of solid fats
Saturated fats, which are found in foods of animal origin, have the tendency to stimulate the production of cholesterol and triglycerides by the liver, whereas unsaturated fats, in which vegetable oils such as corn oil are rich, have the opposite effect. Keep in mind, however, the most important thing is not the limitation of dietary fats, but that of sugars: in other words, the diet must be more similar to that of a diabetic than to that of a patient with high cholesterol.
Significantly reduce or eliminate alcohol
In many people, alcohol in all of its forms (wines, spirits, beer) triggers an intense production of triglycerides by the liver. Therefore, in the presence of hypertriglyceridemia, a control or rather the abolition of this substance is necessary. Because the personal response to alcohol is very variable, and moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages can increase the level of HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) it is good to carry out the control of triglycerides after 2-3 weeks of diet totally free of alcohol, and without modifying the rest of the structure of the diet itself.
Increase fish consumption
The fats from fish are characterized by three interesting properties: they are efficient in lowering the rate of triglycerides in the blood, they have an antithrombotic action and are also good antiarrhythmics. Two to three weekly meals of fish (or at least an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids from supplemented or enriched foods) should become a permanent part of your diet.
Being physically active
Boosting your physical activity contributes in a number of ways to normalizing triglyceride levels. It may help control body weight, an element, as we mentioned, that is of known importance in this respect, and also helps the muscles to better ‘burn’ the triglycerides themselves to produce the energy needed for movement. Indeed, physical activity increases the activity of the enzymes that digest triglycerides (especially Lipoprotein-Lipase, or LPL). Getting adequate physical activity, by the way, is an essential part of any recipe for wellness and health.
Inform your physician
High blood triglyceride levels may be the result of kidney disease (nephrotic syndrome, for example), diabetes mellitus, or the use of certain medications (especially some blood pressure-lowering drugs). Your doctor, occasionally with the help of some appropriate tests, will be able to clarify the cause of hypertriglyceridemia and activate, at this point, a targeted therapeutic intervention.
The role of drugs
Your doctor may decide, in certain situations, to apply specific drugs to reduce the rate of triglycerides in the blood. These medications should be taken continuously, such as medications for diabetes or blood pressure or cholesterol. If the drugs cause discomfort (which rarely happens), do not stop the treatment, but consult with your doctor.
Fast on the morning of the test day
To correctly measure the triglyceride level and to see if it has changed after an adequate diet or due to the effect of a drug, you must have been fasting for at least 12 hours at the time of the test and have eaten a light meal the night before. Do not get up, during the night, to go and drink a glass of milk or a sugary drink in the fridge: the test result could be affected. Furthermore, if possible, always use the same laboratory for the subsequent controls of triglyceridemia.
Conclusion: Lowering triglycerides
Lowering triglycerides, or keeping an eye on the level of triglycerides, is important for health reasons. If you have been eating a lot of ready-made meals, canned food and fast food up to now, buying and preparing the food can be a bit more time-consuming, but with a bit of routine and planning, this should be easy to integrate into your daily routine.
Moreover, if illnesses such as diabetes or kidney disease are present, additional medication is usually required. If you are overweight, you should at least reduce your calorie intake until you reach a normal weight. However, because the diet for lowering triglycerides is balanced and varied, a change is definitely worthwhile – also to avoid reaching a critical triglyceride level in the first place.