What Causes High Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are lipids found in your blood. Lipids are fat created from extra calories your body gets when eating. Once your body has used what it needs at the time, it stores the rest in the form of lipids. If you consume more calories than you need by overeating, you may develop high triglycerides also known as hypertriglyceridemia. This often happens if the extra calories are coming from fatty foods or those high in carbohydrates.

A blood test can determine if your triglyceride levels are normal. Below is a chart of the ranges of triglycerides to help you understand when its levels are too high.


Less than 150 mg per deciliter or less than 1.7 mmol per liter

Borderline high

150 - 199 mg per deciliter or 1.8 – 2.2 mmol per liter


200 – 499 mg per deciliter or 2.3 – 5.6 mmol per liter

Extremely high

Over 500 mg per deciliter or over 5.7 mmol per liter

What Causes High Triglycerides?

High levels of trigs can increase your risk of stroke or heart attack, and it can result from various conditions, both dietary habits and medical issues, including:

  • Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes or glucose control – When your diabetes is uncontrolled, it can increase your triglycerides. You can, however, bring them back down to normal levels if you reduce your blood sugar.
  • Diet high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates – If you eat a lot of food full of sugar and saturated fat, you have an increased risk of developing high cholesterol. This can lead to hypertriglyceridemia, especially if you consume most of these calories in the form of carbohydrates.
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone level) – Sometimes if your thyroid is not making and releasing enough hormones, your triglyceride and cholesterol levels may be high. When you start taking medication to increase your hormone levels, your triglyceride levels will return to normal.
  • Regular alcohol consumption – Drinking alcoholic beverages on a regular basis can raise your triglyceride levels. If this is the case, you should cut alcohol from your diet.
  • Chronic kidney disease – When your HDL cholesterol levels are low and your triglycerides are high, it may be a sign of kidney disease. You should see your doctor for further evaluation.
  • Hereditary condition – Sometimes high triglyceride levels is just in your genes. If other members of your family suffer from high cholesterol or triglycerides, there is a strong chance you may too.
  • Excess belly fat – When you put on too much fat around your belly, your body triggers a chemical reaction that makes it difficult for you to keep your lipid levels normal and healthy.
  • Lack of exercise – When you exercise, you keep your HDL at healthy levels, due in part to a chemical reaction in your muscles. When you don't do physical activity, these levels can drop significantly.
  • Certain medications may cause high triglyceride, which include beta-blockers, diuretics, estrogen, retinoid, corticosteroids and protease inhibitors.

Will High Triglycerides Cause Any Problems?

Now that you have an idea on what causes high triglycerides, you might be asking yourself why it matters. When you suffer from hypertriglyceridemia, you have a greater risk of developing atherosclerosis (a thickening of artery walls or hardening of arteries). If you suffer from this condition, your chances of stroke, heart disease and heart attack increases significantly.

High triglycerides is often a sign of other ailments like obesity, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism, liver disease, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, kidney disease or a sign of an adverse reaction to certain medications. Having it checked and under control will help a lot.

Triglycerides vs. Cholesterol: What's the Difference?

Both triglycerides and cholesterol are lipids in your blood, just in different types. Triglycerides are lipids stored for energy use and while cholesterol is used for cell and hormone formation. Both circulate within your blood and travel throughout your body. Unable to dissolve in the blood stream, they are transported through lipoproteins. Excess of either can be bad for your health.

How to Lower Your High Triglycerides Levels

Now that you know what causes high triglycerides, you are probably wondering how to go about lowering them. Making healthy lifestyle changes are the main course of action. There are several things you can do:

  • Drop the extra weight – When you lose weight, your body can work towards lowering your triglycerides. It is important to stay motivated and focused because losing as little as 5-10 pounds can make a huge difference in your health.
  • Reduce your calorie intake – Your body transforms extra calories into triglycerides and then into fat, so if you reduce your calorie intake you can help lower your triglyceride levels. Also, limit your intake of foods high in sugar and carbohydrates as they can increase your levels. Another diet change that might help is increasing your fiber intake by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Choose healthier fats – Lower your saturated fat intake and consume monounsaturated or omega-3 fatty acids instead. Choose healthier fats like peanut, olive and canola oils. Eat fish in lieu of red meat, in particular salmon for its high omega-3 fatty acid content.
  • Incorporate an exercise regime in your daily routine – As little as 30 minutes of regular exercise a day can increase your good cholesterol levels and lower your triglycerides. Your exercise routine can be broken into smaller, manageable segments if it is hard for you to carve a straight half an hour out of your day. Try taking a brisk 10-minute walk, then later do sit-ups for 10 minutes and perhaps finish later in the day climbing stairs for another 10. All at once or a little at a time, 30 minutes of exercise will go a long way.
  • Drink little or no alcohol beverages – High in sugar and calories, alcohol is not good for your triglycerides. It only takes a little bit to affect your levels so it is best to limit your intake.

Medications and Supplements

Sometimes changes in lifestyle are not enough to lower your triglyceride levels. If that is the case, your physician may put you on medication or supplements. There are several types that might help:

  • High doses of fish oil supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids
  • Statins like Zocor or Lipitor, which are designed to balance good and bad cholesterol levels
  • Fibrate medications such as Lopid, TriCor or Fenoglide, but should not be taken with statins
  • Niacin or nicotinic acid, but caution should be used because of potential negative interactions with other medications.

Make sure you follow your doctor's orders carefully. Several of the medications and supplements on the market can lower triglycerides.

Note: Even if your doctor prescribes you supplements or medications to thwart what causes high triglycerides, you should still make healthy lifestyle choices and changes as it has been shown that if you do not make healthy lifestyle changes, your chances of stroke or heart attack will not necessarily decrease. Exercise and good diet are your best bet to deterring causes of high triglycerides and achieving faster and better results.