Hypertriglyceridemia is an elevation of triglyceride levels in the bloodstream. Triglycerides are the main constituents in natural fats and oils and human body fat. In addition to the intake of dietary fats as a source of triglycerides, they are also produced by the liver. High concentrations of triglycerides in the blood are associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke.


Hypertriglyceridemia is a common disorder in the United States, affecting 33% of the population.

Possible causes of hypertriglyceridemia

It is attributed to consumption of a high-fat, high carbohydrate diet, the so-called Western diet. Elevated triglycerides and other lipids such as cholesterol are more common in industrialized countries in which the Western diet is consumed, rather than in developing countries where mainly whole foods, not refined foods, are consumed. Hypertriglyceridemia is even more damaging to overall health when accompanied by a sedentary lifestyle and low levels of physical activity. Triglyceride levels increase gradually in men until about age 50 and then decline slightly. In women they continue to increase with age.


Triglycerides are the main chemical constituent of more than 90% of dietary fats and body fat and are also produced in the body by the liver. These fats circulate constantly with other lipoproteins found in the blood, including:

Causes and symptoms

Hypertriglyceridemia refers to elevated triglyceride levels in the blood. Using the Fredrickson classification of hyperlipidemias (elevated levels of all types of lipids), hypertriglyceridemia is classified into four different types:


Because elevated triglycerides are usually accompanied by elevations in other circulating fats, measurement of blood lipids (lipid profile) is usually sufficient for identifying hypertriglyceridemia. Laboratory tests are performed for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels. The American Heart Association endorses the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), a program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and supports its guidelines for the detection of high cholesterol. Normal results for lipids are as follows:

Additionally, the NCEP has identified triglyceride levels that can be used to determine whether hypertriglyceridemia treatment is required or if diet alone may lower levels sufficiently. The NCEP defines triglyceride levels as follows:


When triglyceride levels exceed 150 mg/dL, healthcare practitioners usually recommend a diet aimed at reducing lipid levels. Because there are different types of hypertriglyceridemia, which are often associated with other diseases or disorders (diabetes mellitus, obesity, metabolic syndrome), diets must be tailored individually. Individuals with hypertriglyceridemia are typically advised to lose weight and limit the consumption of processed and refined foods, simple sugars, alcohol, and saturated fats. Specific dietary guidelines for reducing triglyceride levels include:

Nutrition/dietetic concerns

Fats are molecules composed of two types of smaller molecules, glycerol and/or fatty acids. The three types of fats in the diet are saturated (including trans fats), monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Most foods contain several different types of fats, and some dietary fats are better than others for contributing to overall health. The three main types of fats are:


The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), through its National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), recommends that the triglycerides of diabetic individuals be checked regularly. Diabetes can increase triglycerides significantly, especially when blood sugar is out of control. Healthy adults over age 40 should have a lipid profile performed at least once a year, and more often if triglyceride and cholesterol levels have been consistently high.

Fat restriction should be carefully evaluated. When weight loss occurs after reducing fat intake, triglyceride levels usually improve as body weight decreases. If triglycerides are severely elevated (1,000 mg/dL), a low-fat diet will decrease chylomicron and VLDL, but if triglycerides are only moderately elevated, a low-fat diet may increase these lipids and may also decrease HDL levels.

Adipose tissue—
Tissue that contains fat cells.
The largest blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body.
Narrowing and hardening of the arteries and medium-sized veins as a result of accumulated fats and cellular debris (plaque) on the vessel walls. Blood flow may be blocked, and pieces of the plaque may break off into the vessels, resulting in heart attack, stroke, and vision problems.
Blood plasma—
The pale yellowish, protein-containing fluid portion of the blood in which cells are suspended. Blood plasma is 92% water, 7% protein, and 1% minerals.
A soft, waxy lipid (fat) produced by the body to protect blood vessels. It is found in the blood along with other lipids and in all body cells, and is also consumed in the fat content of foods.
An excess of chylomicrons in the blood.
Intestinal triglycerides.
Cirrhosis of the liver—A life-threatening liver disease that scars liver tissue, damages its cells, and severely affects liver function. A cirrhotic liver no longer removes toxins such as alcohol, drugs, and environmental pollutants from the blood.
Diabetes mellitus—
A group of disorders in which defects in transferring glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into cells leads to abnormally high levels of blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
A disorder of lipid (lipoprotein) metabolism, including lipid overproduction or deficiency. Dyslipidemias may manifest as elevation of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides and a decrease in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol concentration in the blood.
Fatty acid—
Long-chain carboxylic acids (hydrocarbon chains) with a carboxyl group at one end and a methyl group at the other. Polyunsaturated fats are mainly fatty acids found in plant and fish oils. They differ from saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids by having two or more double bonds between carbon atoms in the chain, and they are liquid at room temperature.
Fredrickson classification—
A five-stage classification system (I through V) devised for hyperlipidemias based on plasma appearance, triglyceride values, and total cholesterol values.
Heart attack—
Interruption of blood flow to the heart caused by blockage with a blood clot or fragment of atherosclerotic plaque. The blockage of heart vessels deprives the heart muscle of oxygen, causing tissue damage or tissue death.
Elevation of lipid levels (fats) in the bloodstream. These lipids include cholesterol, cholesterol compounds, phospholipids, and trigly-cerides, all carried in the blood as part of large molecules called lipoproteins.
Group of chemicals, usually fats, that do not dissolve in water but dissolve in ether.
Metabolic syndrome X—
Also called insulin resistance syndrome or prediabetic syndrome. The syndrome is closely associated with hypertriglyceridemia and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Omega fatty acids—
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are long-chain fatty polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) that are crucial structural components of cell membranes that enable the body to function. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in leafy green vegetables, vegetable oils, and fish such as salmon and mackerel. Consuming omega fatty acids reduces serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels and also provides anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant effects.
The main constituents in 90% of natural fats and oils and human body fat. Triglycerides are also manufactured by the liver.
Unsaturated fat—
A type of fat derived from various plant and animal sources, especially fish. Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature.

Women of childbearing age whose triglycerides are elevated before becoming pregnant are at risk for developing severe hypertriglyceridemia, with levels well above 1,000 mg/dL and the associated risk of pancreatitis. A woman with hypertriglyceridemia is advised to obtain counseling for diet, exercise, and weight management before becoming pregnant and requires close monitoring during pregnancy.

Hypertriglyceridemia has been found to be independently associated with the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and with multiple conditions that contribute to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Medical experts agree that lowering elevated triglycerides is beneficial, and over certain levels essential. For a long time, triglycerides have been overshadowed by other blood lipids, especially choesterol, as contributing factors to cardiovascular disease. A Danish study involving 3,000 healthy men concluded that the risk of having a first heart attack was twice as high for men with the highest triglyceride levels as it was for those with the lowest levels. The connection between high triglycerides and heart disease is now established. The relationship between triglycerides and HDL, however, remains uncertain.


One way to keep triglyceride levels in check is to follow an antihypertriglyceridemia diet to reduce triglyceride levels to normal levels (less than 150 mg/dL), which will benefit the individual in a number of ways. Triglycerides carry fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to body organ systems that require them, help with the synthesis of certain hormones, and help protect cell membranes. The fat tissues in which they are stored also cushion and protect organs such as the kidneys and provide thermal insulation.

Unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats help to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels and are associated with a lower risk for heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil are recommended for their effects on heart health by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans spon-sored by the National Institutes for Health (NIH). The dietary guidelines describe a healthy diet as one that includes a variety of vegetables (dark green leafy, red and orange, legumes, and starchy vegetables); whole fruits; grains, with at least half as whole grains; fat-free or low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheeses) and soy beverages; and a variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products, and oils such as olive oil and canola oil but not saturated fats or trans fats.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart by decreasing the levels of triglycerides, reducing the risk of arrhythmias and abnormal heartbeats that can lead to sudden death, and helping to lower blood pressure levels. Tips to limiting fat in the diet are focused on reducing foods high in saturated and trans fats. Guidelines offered by the Mayo Clinic include the following tips:


See also Dietary cholesterol ; Fats ; Low-fat diet ; Metabolic syndrome ; Metabolism ; Obesity ; Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids ; Protein ; Triglycerides ; Vitamins .



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Monique Laberge, PhD
Revised by L. Lee Culvert

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.