The link between cholesterol and heart disease is well known, but often poorly understood. There are three kinds of cholesterol, and they have very different effects on health. “Good” high-density lipoproteins (or HDL) are beneficial and reduce your risk of developing heart disease; “bad” low-density lipoproteins are harmful and raise it. The less commonly discussed third type, triglycerides, are known as “ugly” cholesterol, is even more harmful than LDL—high triglyceride levels can make your risk of heart disease rise threefold.
Triglycerides are the body’s way of storing extra calories—basic fat, which is in fact a type of cholesterol. Researchers believe triglycerides may be directly responsible for coronary artery disease. Triglyceride levels are measured in mg/dL; anything below 150 mg/dL is considered normal, but the American Heart Association recommends maintaining less than 100 mg/dL.
Ischemic heart disease is caused by narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart. Triglycerides and LDL cholesterol gather in the blood vessels and cause them to become narrower and less flexible, meaning they are less able to deliver needed oxygen to the heart. This causes damage to the heart muscle and keeps it from functioning properly.
There are drug therapies that can lower triglycerides, but the best way to keep yourself at a healthy triglyceride level is with an overall healthy lifestyle. In particular, be careful about excess calories, avoid sugar and saturated fats, get plenty of exercise, drink alcohol in moderation if at all, and remove trans fats and partially hydrogenated oil from your diet entirely.
Other risk factors for heart disease include a family history of the condition, high blood pressure, a stressful lifestyle, and diabetes. If you have any of these it is particularly important to make the lifestyle changes that lower your triglyceride, levels. You should also consider other changes that protect your heart, such as quitting smoking, cutting down on salt, washing your hands, and taking measures to avoid infections.