By Stephenie Karony

Thursday, April 19, 2001

Consider your triglyceride
levels a second opinion

Question: Is knowing my triglyceride levels important health information?

Answer: The more you know about the state of your health, the easier it will be to make the lifestyle changes necessary to improve it.

Blood levels of triglycerides are usually measured at the same time as cholesterol. So the next time you have your cholesterol checked, be sure to ask your doctor to check your triglyceride levels as well.

There is some controversy over what is considered normal concentrations of triglycerides in the blood stream. Some researchers have found that individuals with levels greater than 100 milligrams per deciliter of blood had twice the risk of experiencing a heart attack andor requiring bypass surgery, than those with lower levels.

The potential dangers associated with high levels of triglycerides are:

>> Triglycerides in the blood at levels of 190 or higher make blood considerably more viscous. As a result of this increased viscosity, blood flow becomes sluggish. So less oxygen and nutrients reach the heart.

>> High blood levels of triglycerides are often associated with low levels of the "good" HDL cholesterol. It's the HDL's job to remove the LDLs from the bloodstream. LDLs are what clog the arteries and obstruct blood flow to the heart.

Triglyceride levels are more variable than cholesterol levels. Triglycerides and cholesterol are found both in your body and in the food you eat. If you eat a high-fat meal, you're also eating a triglyceride rich meal.

A meal such as this can cause a dramatic short-term increase in blood levels of triglycerides, and a modest long-term increase as well. For that reason it's important to fast for at least 24 hours before having your triglyceride levels measured.

IF YOU FIND you do have high triglycerides (100 to 200), there are many lifestyle changes you can make to lower them.

>> Lose excess weight: Do this by cutting down on the consumption of overall calories and increase your activity level.

>> Avoid alcohol: Even small amounts of alcohol can significantly raise triglyceride levels.

>> Cut back on simple carbohydrates. Eat less sugar and the products made with sugar.

Simple carbohydrates are quickly converted into triglycerides in the liver. I believe that the increased consumption of no-fat but high-sugar snacks and desserts is at least partly to blame for the elevated triglyceride levels sweeping across America today.

Complex carbohydrates are also converted into triglycerides in the liver. But, in addition to being beneficial for their high concentrations of nutrients and fiber, complex carbs are also converted to triglycerides at a much slower rate, and the conversion process itself uses 23 percent of the calories contained in the food.

Even so, complex carbs can keep blood levels of triglycerides elevated in those who are susceptible.

To stabilize triglyceride levels, eat fatty fish. It's been found that the Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish satisfy this purpose.

So the next time you have your blood work done, get your triglycerides checked. If they're high and living a heart-healthy life is important to you, do something about it.

Stephenie Karony is a certified health and fitness instructor,
a personal trainer and author of "Body Shaping With Free Weights.''
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