Harvard Women's Health Watch

Experts urge intensive lifestyle measures for lowering triglycerides

When cholesterol is measured, so are triglycerides, another type of blood fat that's an independent risk factor for heart disease. High triglycerides increase the likelihood of developing heart disease even when cholesterol levels are normal, especially in postmenopausal women. But triglycerides haven't gotten as much attention as LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol, partly because their role in heart disease and stroke hasn't been well understood.

In recent years, scientists have learned more about how triglycerides are metabolized and how they contribute to atherosclerosis, the clogged arteries that raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. High triglyceride levels are often correlated with low HDL and a type of LDL cholesterol that is particularly likely to produce harmful deposits in the arteries. High triglyceride levels are also a component of another heart disease risk factor — metabolic syndrome, a condition that occurs in most people with type 2 diabetes and includes high blood pressure and a large waist size. The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement about triglycerides and cardiovascular disease that sets a new, lower optimal level of triglycerides and recommends intensive lifestyle measures for reducing elevated triglycerides. The AHA statement and a review of research were published online April 18, 2011, in the journal Circulation. Here are some of the highlights:

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