In 2011 nearly 787,000 people died from heart disease, making the condition the number one cause of death for both men and women. In the United States someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds, and every 60 seconds someone dies from a heart-disease-related event.1 There are many factors to living a heart-healthy lifestyle, one of them being to consistently measure your heart health. But, this can be confusing if you don’t understand all of the components, and how they rank in importance. Everyone knows to have a low blood pressure, but what does it mean to have high triglycerides or bad cholesterol?
Triglycerides and cholesterol are two different types of lipids (fats) that circulate in your blood. Triglycerides store unused calories and provide your body with energy, while cholesterol is used to build cells and certain hormones. Cholesterol and Triglycerides travel through the bloodstream in packages called lipoproteins that are made of lipid on the inside and protein on the outside.
Triglycerides are essential for body function. When you eat, any unused calories are immediately converted into triglycerides, which are then stored in your fat cells. Hormones later release triglycerides for energy between meals.2 Regularly eating more fatty calories, such as carbohydrates, than you need increases high triglyceride risk. That being said, why do triglyceride levels matter? Having high triglycerides may contribute to hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls, which increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.3
Triglyceride levels have risen in the past 30 years as one-third of adults in the United States have borderline high triglyceride levels.4 Having a high level of triglycerides, which can be also known as Hypertriglyceridemia, increases your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is also a type of lipid that circulates throughout the body that is essential for body function. But, unlike high triglycerides, not all high cholesterol contributes to heart disease.5 Two separate types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). It’s important to have a balance between these two cholesterols.6
The high-density lipoproteins cholesterol keeps cholesterol from over-accumulating and returns it to the liver. For this, it’s referred to as “good cholesterol.” The low-density lipoproteins form plaque inside the blood vessels and is considered “bad cholesterol.”7 The higher levels of high-density lipoproteins the higher the risk of coronary heart disease.
Fortunately, making the same conscious lifestyle decisions to maintain a healthy body weight, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, limit alcohol and quit smoking are the most important steps to lower both high triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Your primary care provider can determine your triglyceride levels with a lipid panel test and provide options for managing your triglyceride levels.
Keeping track of all of these factors and staying motivated, may seem difficult, but a personalized health community can help you. Peers can share with your their best tips to live a heart-healthy lifestyle, and you can share yours in return. Join us.