As obesity and diabetes increase, so do its complications. One complication that has recently been a focus of focus for the American Heart Association (AHA) is high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are fats in the blood. Some are produced naturally by the liver, while others come from calories that the body does not need to use right away. The more calories a person eats, the more likely they are to have a high triglyceride count.
Higher levels, calculated above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg / dl), can increase a person’s risk of having a stroke or heart attack by causing narrowing of the arteries. Estimates suggest that about a quarter of the adult population may have triglyceride levels above 150 mg / dl. Excessively high levels, above 500 mg / dl, can also lead to inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to lower triglyceride levels. Exercising regularly, cutting down on alcohol, and cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates can help, as can other steps to maintain a healthy weight, such as swapping saturated fat for unsaturated fat.
Sometimes these changes are not enough to make a substantial difference. If this is the case, a doctor will rule out conditions like type 2 diabetes and hypothyroidism before prescribing medications for high triglycerides. Currently, there are two recipes for reducing triglycerides, and both involve omega-3 fatty acids. One contains a fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The other combines EPA with a second fatty acid: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Previous research had not compared the effects of these drugs. But a recent AHA report based on the review, published in its journal Circulation, has concluded that both are equally effective. The researchers based their findings on an analysis of 17 clinical trials and found that “treatment with 4 grams per day of any of the available prescription options is effective,” explains study first author Ann Skulas-Ray, Ph.D. , from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Skulas-Ray also notes that these drugs can “be used safely in conjunction with statin drugs that lower cholesterol.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has currently only approved prescription drugs with omega-3 fatty acids to treat triglyceride levels that are extremely high, above 500 mg / dl. But the authors of the current advisory found that a daily dose of 4 grams could lower triglyceride levels from 200 to 499 mg / dl by 20% to 30%. This would apply to most people with high triglyceride levels.
The researchers also noted that the drug containing EPA and DHA did not increase levels of LDL cholesterol, the “bad” kind, in people with triglyceride levels below 500 mg / dl. They also found that people with very high triglyceride levels who took EPA-only medications combined with statin therapy experienced a 25% decrease in major cardiovascular events, including strokes and heart attacks.
Skulas-Ray notes that people should not try to treat high triglyceride levels at home with over-the-counter omega-3 supplements. “Dietary supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids are not regulated by the FDA,” she explains. “They should not be used in place of prescription drugs for the long-term management of high triglycerides.”
In 2017, the AHA released an advisory citing a lack of evidence to support the claim that fish oil supplements could prevent cardiovascular disease in the general population. However, the AHA noted that people who have suffered a heart attack or heart failure can benefit from supplements.
Still, consuming omega-3 fatty acids in fish can reduce heart disease and the risk of stroke. The AHA recommends eating fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, lake trout, and albacore, twice a week.