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Lifestyle Changes Reduce Triglycerides

People who take steps to alter their lifestyles and eat healthier diets can significantly reduce high levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat that is associated with heart and blood vessel problems as well as with other diseases, the American Heart Association says.

April 18, 2011 -- People who take steps to alter their lifestyles and eat healthier diets can significantly reduce high levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat that is associated with heart and blood vessel problems and other diseases, the American Heart Association says in a new scientific statement.

Changes can include substituting healthy, unsaturated dietary fats for saturated ones, exercising, and losing weight, which could reduce triglycerides by 20% to 50%, the AHA statement says.

“The good news is that high triglycerides can, in large part, be reduced through major lifestyle changes,” Michael Miller, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, says in a news release.

Lifestyle Changes Can Lower Triglyceride Levels

Miller, who also is director of the university’s Center for Preventive Cardiology, says, “High triglycerides are often quite responsive to lifestyle measures that include weight loss,” regular exercise, and changes in diet.

This is different from high cholesterol, in which lifestyle measures also are important but may not provide a solution, he says.

Miller and co-authors of the new statement analyzed more than 500 international studies done over the past three decades to arrive at their conclusions.

For people who are outside the normal range of triglycerides, the scientists recommend limiting:

  • Added sugar to less than 5% to 10% of calories, or about 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories daily for men
  • Fructose, from processed foods and naturally occurring foods, to less than 50 to 100 grams per day
  • Saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories
  • Trans fat to less than 1% of total calories
  • Alcohol, especially if triglyceride levels are higher than 500 milligrams per deciliter

Nutrition Panels Don’t Tell All You Should Know

The researchers acknowledge that it’s often hard to know how much sugar is added in foods because the amount of added sugars is not listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of packaged foods.

The American Heart Association recommends drinking no more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages per week, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, because such beverages are responsible for most of the added sugar in American's diets.

The researchers also say that people with high triglycerides should focus on eating more vegetables; fruits that are lower in fructose such as cantaloupe, grapefruit, strawberries, bananas, peaches; high-fiber whole grains; and especially omega-3 fatty acids, which are found primarily in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, lake trout, and albacore tuna.

Diet Changes Not Enough; People Need More Physical Activity, Too

The statement says that people with triglyceride levels in the borderline to high range of 150-199 milligrams per deciliter also should incorporate physical activities such as brisk walking for at least 150 minutes a week.

Such physical activities may result in reducing triglyceride levels by 20% to 30%, the researchers write.

“Triglycerides are an important barometer of metabolic health,’’ says Neil J. Stone, MD, a professor in the Fienberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “When the clinician sees an elevated triglyceride level, there needs to be an important conversation about risk factors and the need to eat less, eat smarter, and to move more on a daily basis to improve triglycerides and the metabolic profile.”

Testing for triglycerides is quite simple. It involves a blood sample, which is traditionally taken after a 12-hour fast.

The statement authors recommend using non-fasting triglyceride testing as an initial screen.

New Optimal Level for Triglycerides

They say that though the cutoff for elevated triglycerides is still 150 milligrams per deciliter, a new optimal level of 100 milligrams per deciliter has been set to acknowledge the protective effects of a healthier lifestyle.

Elevated triglyceride levels represent a major problem in the United States, the statement says.

About 31% of adults have elevated triglyceride levels of more than 150 milligrams per deciliter. This varies by ethnicity and is highest among Mexican-Americans at 36%. Whites have the second-highest rate at 33%, while African-Americans have the lowest at 16%.

The researchers say it is worrisome that triglyceride levels have been rising in young adults between 20 and 49, mirroring the increased rates of obesity and diabetes occurring at earlier ages.

The statement is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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