I get a lot of phone calls and letters from women who are confused about the results of their blood tests. Ten years ago, most of the confusion was about cholesterol. But most people now understand their cholesterol numbers quite well. The confusion now is over triglycerides.
Most everyone knows that high triglycerides are bad for you. But I've found that a lot of women don't know what triglycerides are or what constitutes high levels. And worse, very few know just how dangerous they are or how to lower them effectively without drugs.
Just like cholesterol, triglycerides are necessary to your health. They are fats your body stores for future energy. We all need a little extra stored energy. But if you're carrying excess weight around your tummy, thighs, buttocks, or other areas, you probably have more triglycerides than you need.
And this can be dangerous. In fact, high levels of triglycerides are much more dangerous than cholesterol. They not only contribute to heart disease, but also diabetes. And anyone can have high levels — even if you're physically fit and have normal cholesterol numbers.
If you're overweight, the triglycerides stored in your fat tissues are a useful warning that it's time to lose weight. But the triglycerides that remain in your bloodstream are the ones you really need to be concerned about. They are far more dangerous than those in your fat tissues. They turn into energy-producing fat particles that can slow down your circulation and stick to the walls of your arteries. This is how plaque is formed. And it’s how high triglycerides lead to heart disease.
In the past, high triglycerides were just part of the total picture of high fats (cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides) that increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Now we know more. High triglycerides are actually an independent risk factor for heart disease – even when your cholesterol and its fractions are normal.
But there's even more you should know.
Triglycerides also cause your body to make too much insulin. This can lead to insulin resistance, which can progress to Syndrome X, then diabetes.
Look to the Source
Excess triglycerides are almost always a consequence of a diet too high in fats, refined starches, and sugars. They also are produced when you overeat, and when you don't have enough antioxidants.
But, you can eat a healthy diet and still have high triglycerides. That's what happened to Susan Burke, a fitness enthusiast I saw for nutritional counseling some years ago.
"I don't understand this," Susan said, visibly upset that her blood test revealed abnormally high triglycerides. "I don't eat any white flour, white rice, or sugar. I don't eat sugar or even anything with honey. And I limit my alcohol to a small glass of wine some nights. What else can I do?"
I asked Susan to keep a two-week food diary, and found the culprit: fruit! Susan drank several large glasses of undiluted fruit juice and ate fruit throughout the day. I eliminated her fruit juice and lowered her intake of fruit to two pieces a day and her triglycerides quickly dropped.
Look at your most recent fasting blood test. Optimally, your triglycerides should be between 50 and 100 mg/dl. If they're pushing 200 or higher, it's time to take action. If you have high triglycerides, you're eating too much sugar.
Modify Your Diet
Begin by keeping a one-week food diary and circle in red all foods that contain refined carbohydrates or sugars. Sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, honey, rice syrup, anything ending in "ose" (such as fructose or dextrose), and fruit/fruit juice. If you're adding a sweetener to your tea or coffee, breakfast cereal, or other food, cut down on the amount you're using. Use Stevia, the powdered leaf of a plant 100 times sweeter than sugar (you can find it in any health food store), instead. It doesn't affect blood sugar or triglyceride levels.
If your triglycerides are over 150, you may need to do more than change your diet. Many doctors prescribe statins to lower triglycerides along with cholesterol and LDL. However, as you know from some of my past articles, statins deplete your body's stores of Coenzyme Q10, an important nutrient for your brain and heart.
My preference is to use a combination of diet and supplements.
Supplements Lower Triglycerides
Diet, exercise (burning up excess fats and stored triglycerides), and specific supplements all help lower your triglycerides. Here are some of my favorite supplement suggestions.
Chromium: This mineral is frequently low in people with high triglycerides. Study after study shows that just 200 mcg of chromium supplementation – the amount found in some multivitamins – has significantly lowered triglycerides. But some people need much more. Talk with your doctor about taking 200 mcg two to three times a day for a few months. It's safe.
A study reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that there was no toxicity from chromium when taken at several thousands of times the upper limits of estimated safety and adequate daily intake. I've given 500 mcg twice a day for three months, then 500 mcg once a day, to patients who were diabetic or had severe hypoglycemia. The results were excellent and no one experienced any symptoms of toxicity.
Fish oil and flax oil: These essential fats can lower your triglycerides up to 65%, so include them in your daily supplements. Since it's difficult to find fish that don't come from polluted waters, and it's possible to buy fish oil capsules containing no pesticides or other toxins, you may want to get most of your essential fats from supplements. Take one to two capsules (1,200 mg) of a good quality fish oil daily. You can find them in health food stores, or in Complete Daily Oils.
Padma Basic: This herbal remedy from Tibet containing 22 natural ingredients was originally used to increase circulation and improve peripheral artery disease. The result is reduced leg pain and cramps that come from walking. Now we're finding that Padma does much more. A side effect of this antioxidant-rich formula was that it significantly lowers triglycerides (two tablets taken two times a day). Padma Basic isn’t in many stores, but you can get it here. Give it a three-month trial.
Garlic: This popular herb is known for its ability to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. However, you should know that it could take three to four months before you see a significant drop. Be patient and try it for six months. Eating raw garlic, and taking one of the many garlic products available may lower your triglycerides. But be aware that garlic supplements vary in their chemical makeup. If you're going to take a garlic supplement to lower your triglycerides, I suggest you use Kwai – the brand used in most studies. You can find it in all health food stores. The dose most commonly used was one tablet, three times a day.
Fenugreek: The common herb, fenugreek, has been shown to lower triglycerides by 20% when 25 grams were taken daily for three weeks. If you don’t want to take one more capsule or tablet, try drinking a couple of cups of fenugreek tea each day for three months.
Dietary Additions to lower cholesterol include artichokes, parsley and parsley tea, cinnamon and cinnamon tea, and green tea.
Usually a change in diet and the right supplements are all you need to lower your triglycerides to a safe level. This is one of the best ways to avoid a heart attack and diabetes.