American Heart Association recommends a lower "optimal" level

Watching your cholesterol is nearly as common nowadays as watching your blood pressure, watching your glucose level or watching your weight. But do you watch your triglyceride levels? Triglycerides are a type of fat that gives you energy. Similar to cholesterol, triglycerides are produced by your liver but can also come from food.

Knowing the level of triglycerides circulating in your blood is important because high triglycerides indicate that you may be at increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Your triglycerides are measured as part of the blood test your doctor orders to check your cholesterol. In 2001, the National Cholesterol Education Program, part of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, defined a desirable triglyceride level as less than 150 mg/dL. However, in May 2011, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued its own statement declaring optimal levels even lower—below 100 mg/dL.

According to the AHA, the average triglyceride level in the United States has been going up since 1976, in concert with growing epidemics of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This doesn't mean that high triglycerides are necessarily to blame, but the trend may be a sign that something is going terribly awry with the nation's health habits. The good news is that you can take measures to dramatically reduce your triglyceride levels.

Doctor's Viewpoint

James L. Weiss, M.D. Michael J. Cudahy Professor of Cardiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

We don't think that triglycerides directly contribute to heart attacks and strokes. What we do know is that triglycerides go hand-in-hand with particles that do cause problems, such as LDL cholesterol. If your triglycerides are high, the most important thing you can do is make lifestyle changes, like improving your diet and getting more exercise.

Your doctor may recommend a statin if you're at high risk for a heart attack. It's not clear, though, whether adding a drug like a fibrate, which reduces triglycerides, will be beneficial.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 07 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2013