How to lower triglyceride levels
By Jenilee Matz, MPH Jul 18, 2023 • 4 min
Triglycerides are a marker of heart health that are usually measured at the same time as cholesterol. Having high triglycerides is linked with an increased risk of heart disease. If your healthcare provider says you have high triglycerides, know that there are ways to reduce your levels and lower your health risks.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of lipid (fat) that circulates in your blood. After you eat, your body converts excess calories into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells. Your body uses these stored triglycerides for energy between meals. However, if you often take in more calories than you burn off, this can lead to hypertriglyceridemia or high triglyceride levels. Genetics, certain medical conditions and some medicines can also raise your triglyceride levels.
High triglycerides may contribute to arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the artery walls), a disease that can reduce blood flow to your body. This can increase your risk of a heart attack, heart disease and stroke. Very high triglycerides may also lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). What’s more, high triglycerides are associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which are other factors that raise your risk of heart disease.
Treatment for high triglycerides
Lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medications can reduce triglycerides. Having healthy habits is often enough to significantly bring down triglycerides and improve heart health:
- Make changes to your diet. Avoid simple carbohydrates, foods and drinks made with added sugars and white flour. Swap saturated and trans fats for healthier unsaturated fats found in plants, such as fats from avocados or olive oil. Saturated fats are found in animal products, such as fatty cuts of meat, poultry with skin and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are mostly found in foods made with hydrogenated oils, including fried foods and commercially prepared baked goods. Opt for foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, walnuts and flaxseeds, because they are known to help lower triglyceride levels.
- Get regular exercise. Strive to be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. If you don’t have a full 30 minutes to devote to fitness, break exercise up into shorter sessions throughout the day.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, losing 5% to 10% of your body weight can decrease triglycerides.
- Curb your alcohol intake. If you have very high triglycerides, your healthcare provider may recommend that you avoid drinking any alcohol.
- Do not smoke. If you smoke, get help to quit.
Some people need medication to treat high triglycerides. For instance, if you have very high triglycerides, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to decrease your risk of pancreatitis, heart disease and other problems associated with high triglyceride levels. Triglyceride-lowering medicines called fibrates are often the first-line treatment. Or your provider may prescribe a high dose of omega-3 fatty acids or cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins or niacin, that also reduce triglycerides.
If you have high triglycerides, follow your treatment plan as directed by your healthcare provider. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and taking medication as prescribed can lower your triglycerides and reduce your heart risks.
Clinically reviewed and updated July 2023.