According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in the U.S. More than one million Americans have a heart attack each year and about 500,000 die of heart disease. Many of us monitor our blood pressure and cholesterol. However, having a high level of triglycerides can also increase our risk of heart disease.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. Having high triglycerides, or “hypertriglyceridemia,” occurs when someone regularly eats more calories than they burn, especially in the form of carbohydrates and fats. Extra calories are turned into triglycerides that are stored in the fat cells, in much the same way that cholesterol is, but cholesterol is used to build cells and certain hormones, while triglycerides are used for energy.
Triglycerides are measured with a simple blood test after fasting for nine to 12 hours. Per the National Cholesterol Education Program, the four categories of triglyceride levels are:
< 150 milligrams mg/dL
500 mg/dL or above
*Milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
High triglycerides are thought to contribute to hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls, which increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. Extremely high triglycerides can also cause acute pancreatitis. They also can be a sign of other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, or liver or kidney disease and may be associated with obesity and a cluster of risk factors known as the metabolic syndrome. High metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when someone has three or more of the following measurements: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high fasting glucose. For more details on metabolic syndrome, visit the American Heart Association.
Patients who experience high triglycerides are encouraged to make better lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating a proper diet. Research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia recently also found that having later-in-the-day eating habits lead to a less healthy metabolic profile, including negative changes to weight, metabolism, fasting glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Medications may also be used to help control high triglycerides. These include statins, which are also used to lower cholesterol; omega-3 fatty acids; fibrate medications; and niacin. However, the effects of these drugs are somewhat controversial. Clinical trials testing niacin and fibrate medications showed that, even though triglycerides were reduced, the risk for heart disease was not.
An article published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine reports on a recent phase 2 clinical trial that involved a new type of therapy using “antisense oligonucleotides” (ASOs), which are pieces of DNA that reduce production of triglycerides, which resulted in a reduction of as much as 70%. However, more research is needed to determine whether or not heart disease risk will be reduced as well.
Further research is critical to improving the prevention and treatment of high triglycerides and heart disease in general. Meridien Research is conducting clinical trials on cholesterol and high triglycerides at several of our locations. For more information or to see if you or someone you
know may qualify to participate, please contact us today at 1-888-777-8839.