Troublesome Triglycerides (Part 2)

In last week’s blog entry, you learned a little bit about triglycerides: what they are, what causes them to be high, and why it’s not good if they’re too high. This week, we’ll continue to talk about triglycerides, but this time, we’ll look at how you can lower your levels if they’re above target (150 mg/dl).


It’s worthwhile to note that triglycerides, in and of themselves, aren’t “bad.” Remember that they’re a storage form of energy for the body. The problem comes in when they accumulate in the blood—heart disease being the primary problem.

So, what can you do if your levels are above 150 mg/dl? First, make sure that your triglycerides were tested after you fasted for about 12 hours. In other words, your reading won’t be accurate if you just polished off a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. Second, talk to your health-care provider about reasons why your triglycerides might be high. Is your diet the culprit? Or could it be your diabetes?

How is diabetes related to high triglycerides? Actually, uncontrolled blood glucose levels often go hand in hand with high triglycerides. The reason has to do with insulin. Insulin is needed to help move not just glucose into cells for energy, but also protein and fat. Therefore, if you don’t have enough insulin on board (whether from your own pancreas or from injections), you can have high blood glucose and triglyceride levels. If you and your health-care provider suspect that this is the case, your main job, then, will be to focus on getting your diabetes under better control.

You can take other steps to lower your triglycerides. Let’s run through these one by one:

  • Cut down on sweets and refined carbohydrates, such as desserts, fruit juices, white bread, white pasta, and white rice.
    Some people seem to be sensitive to sugary and refined carbs in terms of triglycerides levels.
  • Go for the whole grains.
    Here’s another reason to choose whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta: Substituting whole grain carbs for refined carbs can lower your triglyceride levels.
  • Lighten up on alcohol.
    In most cases, alcohol doesn’t have too much of an impact on triglyceride levels. However, as with refined carbs, some people are sensitive to the effects of alcohol (on triglyceride levels, that is!).
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
    Reason number 105 for shedding some pounds.
  • Focus on omega-3 fatty acids.
    Fatty fish and other seafood are rich in this type of polyunsaturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that we eat at least two fish meals each week. (I’ll talk more about omega-3 fatty acids in a future blog entry, since there’s so much more to say about them.)
  • Substitute heart-healthy fats for saturated and trans fats.
    Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, corn oil, flaxseed oil…all of these are much healthier than butter, margarine, shortening, and lard. And these heart-healthy fats can help lower your LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, too.
  • Be active on a regular basis.
    Exercise can help raise HDL (or “good”) cholesterol, while lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Ask about medicine.
    Just as some people need to take medicine to lower cholesterol levels, some people need medicine to lower triglycerides. Your health-care provider may prescribe fibrates, nicotinic acid, or even a prescription version of omega-3 fatty acids. However, as with cholesterol, even if you need medicine to lower your triglycerides, you’ll still need to make the lifestyle changes we discussed above.

Get your triglyceride levels checked regularly, and make sure you keep track of them and all your diabetes numbers, including HbA1c, blood pressure, albumin, and LDL and HDL cholesterol. The more you know about your health, the more you can do to stay healthy.

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  • AndreaBB

    Even after my endo put me on lovastatin and got all of my cholesterol levels into the normal ranges, my triglicerides stayed up around 175. I’ve also been losing about 5 pounds a month and walking more, but that had no effect. I had heard that a cinnamon-lovastatin combo might help, so I started taking one cinnamon tablet (1000 mg) a day. After 3 months, my triglicerides tested at 124! This is the first time in my adult life they were normal!

  • hotseetots

    Why would one’s cholesterol level be low and triglyceride levels be high? I can’t find anything to explain this as it seems they are usually high together.

  • acampbell

    Hi hotseetots,

    You didn’t mention how “low” your cholesterol is, nor which type of cholesterol (total, HDL or LDL). However, it’s possible for your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) to be within target, yet still have triglycerides above 150. Reasons for this can be due to uncontrolled, or high, blood glucose levels, or even hypothyroidism. Also, make sure that your triglyceride levels were measured after an 8-12 hour fast, and not after you just ate something; otherwise, the reading may not be accurate. In any case, you should discuss this further with your physician. In the meantime, try some of the approaches I listed above to hopefully help get those triglycerides down. Good luck!

  • Neil

    Does alcohol play a part of high triglycerides levels? And how long does it stay in your system ?

  • acampbell

    Hi Neil,
    There is a lot of conflicting data about the effect of alcohol on triglyceride levels. The usual advice is that people who have high triglyceride levels (above 150) should avoid (or at least strictly limit)alcohol, with the assumption that alcohol would raise triglycerides even higher. However, there isn’t a lot of research to support that advice, and some studies have shown alcohol to actually lower triglyceride levels. However, there may be other reasons not to drink alcohol, so it’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about how to safely drink alcohol. The amount of time that alcohol stays in the system really depends on so many factors, such as age, gender, if food was eaten, liver health, and body weight. In general, after consuming one alcoholic beverage, such as 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. beer, blood alcohol levels peak at about 30-45 minutes, and will be cleared from the blood in about 2 hours. But the more you drink, the longer it takes the body to eliminate alcohol.

  • Bill

    I’m trying to lower my triglyceride levels and just found your info. I’d appreciate a copy of the newsletter. Thanks.

  • Tara Dairman, Web Editor

    Hi Bill,

    If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the free DSM e-mail newsletter at

  • momsaverb

    I have checked with my doctor and he suggests I change to a low carb beer to help with my trigylcerides–following recommendations, of course. This sounds like it may be quite beneficial….what is your take on this?

  • acampbell

    Hi momsaverb,

    Low-carb beer is certainly an option for you. By definition, low-carb beers have less than 7 grams of carb per serving (12 oz) whereas light beer has 7–12 grams carb per serving and regular beer, 9–15 grams. Calories are lower in low-carb beer, too. Cutting back on carb intake may help lower triglycerides. However, keep in mind that even low-carb beers contain alcohol. Alcohol may increase the risk of hypoglycemia in some people, and too much alcohol may increase triglyceride levels, so you should still watch your portions, even of the low-carb beers.

  • longfaster


    I have:

    Triglyceride: 318

    HDL: 41

    LDL: 81

    Glucose: 82

    Total Cholosteral: 41

    CHOL/HDLC Ratio: 4.5

    Everything else is within range except:

    Calcium: 10.3 which is just over the high range of 10.2

    I am overweight at 305 lbs with a large frame and 6’2″.

    I fasted for 15 hours by the time I got in to get the blood work.

    My previous years Triglyceride was 202 with all remaining values normal. I have gained weight since then.

    Did the extra long fasting cause a high Triglyceride level?

    Why is the Triglyceride level so high but everything else in such decent range?

    Should I consider flax seed supplements and if so what type?

    Thank you

  • acampbell

    Hi longfaster,

    It’s doubtful that your long fasting time affected your triglycerides. But it’s certainly possible to have a “normal” cholesterol and a high triglyceride level, since they are two separate things. Factors that can increase triglycerides include the following: uncontrolled diabetes, hypothyroidism, being overweight, alcohol use, kidney disease, and some medicines (including diuretics, beta blockers, steroids, and estrogen). I’d suggest that you first talk with your physician regarding what might be causing your high triglycerides, and then discuss a strategy for lowering them to at least 150. Lifestyle changes can help, as can omega-3 fatty acids. You can certainly try flaxseed supplements, but first talk with your physician. In some cases, medicine may be needed to get your triglycerides down to a safe level.

  • tom

    my triglycerides were 7800 when i was admitted into the hospital for pancreatitis in march 2010 since then after being on pravistatin and fenofibrate for the tri’s my cholesterol was in normal range in june and tri’s were 185, so was wondering if it would be safe to drink a lite beer or na beer instead of the regular beers i have been drinking in the past. alcohol was the blame but i was also eating a very bad diet and have since then changed my diet, but have not had a beer since march. i would really like to have a couple. any harm??

  • acampbell

    Hi Tom,

    You ask a good question. Traditionally, people with high triglycerides (TG) have been advised to avoid drinking alcohol altogether. Yet studies have shown little association between drinking alcohol and TG. It also appears that some people are more “sensitive” to alcohol’s effect on TG than others. However, it’s probably best if you check with your physician before drinking alcohol again.

  • Frank

    I am 41 and I live an active lifestyle, I am 5’10” and 172 male. Eight months ago my triglycerides levels were at 157 and I just took a blood test the other day and they were 309. I have had no change in diet or exercise. Could this be an underlying condition for something else?

  • acampbell

    Hi Frank,

    Were you fasting when your triglycerides were measured? If not, ask your doctor to have your triglycerides (TG) rechecked and have the blood test first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything. Otherwise, without more information, it’s a little hard to say why your levels have crept up. Assuming you have diabetes, how are your blood glucose levels? If your glucose levels have been high, TG can jump up, too. Other explanations could be a thyroid condition, kidney or liver disease, an increase in alcohol intake, or certain medicines, such as beta blockers, diuretics, and steroids. Talk with your doctor and arrange to have your TG rechecked in a few weeks. In the meantime, continue with exercise, try to include more sources of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, and cut back on alcohol, if you drink.

  • erwin

    HI, Im taking fenofibrate to lower my triglycerides. My doctor prescribed a once a day fenofibrate for a month. I have stopped it for a while because Im having muscles pains on my shoulder (on the 17th day). My other doctor told me to take at least two for a week. When can I drink alcohol after finishing the fenofibrate medication?
    I read that I should avoid alcohol while taking fenofibrate. I did not take the medicine for about 4 days before I drink about 3 bottles of beer. is this okay? im 37 years old.

  • acampbell

    Hi erwin,

    My first recommendation, if you haven’t done so already, is to let your doctor know about your shoulder pain. Muscle pain can be a side effect of fenofibrate and it may be that you need another type of medicine. As far as resuming alcohol, I don’t have a definitive answer on that, but it would seem practical to wait several days after stopping fenofibrate. You might check with your pharmacist, too.

  • yen

    I have high triglyceride problem,had tried various medicine.finally, was prescribed fenofibrate.the medicine blood test reading is normal,should i stop.because i tried covastin,the reading goes up once stopped taking.thank you.

  • acampbell

    Hi yen,

    This is a question that you should ask your doctor or pharmacist. However, I would think that you will need to continue taking the medication, as stopping it may cause your triglycerides to go back up.

  • Lori

    Hi, My husband went in for a physical back in April. He fasted 12 hours. His Triglycerides were 309, HDL 43, Glucose 107. He is an alcoholic, overweight (barely into the ‘obese’ category) lives a sedentary lifestyle, and has no plan to change. He carries most of his fat in his stomach. His face is also very chunky and complains of ‘aches’ in his tendons and swelling in his feet and legs. When he saw the doctor the doctor seemed to shrug off the fact that he has metabolic syndrome and just told hubby to eat more fruits and vegies and lay off the processed food – which he won’t change his diet. Regardless, since the doctor didn’t seem too concerned, neither does my husband. I have been searching the internet to find out when full-blown diabetes will develop and am having a hard time finding answers. Can you give me your take on his condition and what to expect? He is 44 and is fairly ‘healthy’ except for a few bouts of pneumonia 2 and 3 years ago. Thanks!

  • acampbell

    Hi Lori,

    It’s unfortunate that your husband’s doctor has not taken his condition more seriously. Telling someone to eat more fruits and vegetables is not overly helpful. I really can’t tell you if or when your husband will develop diabetes. However, given his weight, his triglyceride levels, and the fact that he’s sedentary, I would say he’s certainly at risk. His alcoholism may be another risk factor, as well. Ideally, your husband’s provider (or another health-care team member) would talk with your husband about his risks and the benefits of lifestyle changes. The hard part, though, is that your husband has to want to make changes. You might try having a discussion with your husband and find out what, if any, his concerns are about his health and if he might be willing to make some changes, such as starting an activity program or making a few changes to his food intake. Letting him know that you’re concerned and want to help him is important (nagging doesn’t work!). His alcoholism is, of course, a concern and I hope he is seeking treatment for that.