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Triglycerides are one of the types of fat in our bloodstream that provide energy for our bodies.
Whenever you eat a meal, your body processes the food to produce energy to fuel daily activities. Excess energy from food gets turned into triglycerides,¹ which are stored in our fat cells.
When required, these fat stores can quickly turn back into energy for our bodies to use between meals. Triglyceride levels can vary based on recent food intake, so the levels are usually measured via blood tests after 8 to 12 hours of fasting (not eating).
Normal triglyceride levels are less than 150 mg/dL.² Having triglyceride levels that are too high or too low can damage your health.
High triglyceride levels³ can increase your risk of developing heart disease, strokes, and severe inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis.
However, having excessively low triglyceride levels can also be dangerous and indicate underlying health conditions.
There is no specific value that defines a low triglyceride level. However, it is still possible to identify individuals with dangerously low triglyceride levels via blood tests called “lipid profile tests”.
The following factors can lead to low triglycerides. These factors, combined with lipid profile test results, can help health professionals decide if medical intervention to increase triglycerides would benefit a patient’s health.
As part of a heart-healthy diet,⁴ overall fat intake should be reduced, and saturated fats should be swapped for unsaturated fats found in liquid plant oil (such as olive oil) and fish.
Adhering to these dietary recommendations can result in lower triglyceride levels.
Triglyceride levels fluctuate based on your dietary fat intake. So, those on very low-fat diets will likely have low triglyceride levels.
Fasting refers to abstaining from food or calorie intake for some time. We naturally fast when we sleep or have breaks in between meals. Some also follow an “intermittent fasting” regime and avoid food intake for 12 to 16 hours each day for weight control.
Triglycerides are produced in your body following food intake. If you were to fast for long periods, your triglyceride levels would be low.⁵
Malnutrition occurs when a person is not getting healthy amounts of nutrients from food. Food provides a diverse range of nutrients. The type and amount of nutrients in different food products can vary.
Malnutrition can occur even when daily calorie needs are met. For instance, having a diet consisting solely of high-calorie ice cream can cause malnutrition. This is due to the absence of vitamins from fresh fruit and vegetables.
A diet absent of fat or not eating enough food to meet daily needs can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients. This leads to low triglyceride levels.
Malabsorption⁶ is a condition where nutrients from food are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Some causes of malabsorption include being deficient in molecules that break down food in the gut or conditions that damage the intestines.
As a result, main nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fat may not be absorbed. With less fat for the body to process, triglyceride levels will also be reduced.
The thyroid gland is a structure in our neck that releases chemicals called thyroid hormones into our bloodstream.
If you have an overactive thyroid gland, your triglyceride levels will be lowered. This could be due to conditions such as Graves’ disease or thyroid gland inflammation.
Thyroid hormones act on many parts of the body to regulate processes such as heat regulation and heart rate.⁷ Excess thyroid hormone also affects our fat cells, and this can result in low triglyceride levels.
Lipid-lowering medications that reduce cholesterol are widely prescribed to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Examples of common lipid-lowering medications are:
Bile acid sequestrants
When these lipid-lowering medications are used, triglyceride levels may also be lowered.
Although low triglyceride levels are associated with a heart-healthy diet, having excessively low triglyceride levels can be concerning. An adequate amount of fat is still needed for our bodies to function.
Extremely low triglyceride levels can suggest inadequate fat intake to support a healthy body.
Malnutrition or having low dietary fat can be addressed by increasing food intake and providing vitamin supplements if required.
A varied diet will keep you healthy and your triglyceride levels normal. This means a diet⁴ that focuses on:
Fish or poultry
Fruits and vegetables
Limiting your intake of red meat is recommended as well.
If you have low triglycerides due to underlying conditions such as hyperthyroidism or malabsorption, treating the underlying cause would help raise your triglycerides to a healthier level.
If you need guidance in optimizing your dietary intake, your doctor may be able to connect you with other health professionals, like dieticians, for support.
Your doctor may also review your current medications as part of a health check-up. Please raise any concerns about your dose of cholesterol-lowering medications during these appointments.
Please seek medical attention if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism or malabsorption.
Your doctor will be able to treat the underlying causes to prevent excessively low triglyceride levels.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
An enlarged thyroid gland in your neck called a goiter
Unintentional weight loss
Feelings of anxiety
Thinning skin or hair loss
Fat malabsorption typically presents as “steatorrhea”, excess fat in the feces. Steatorrhea⁸ results in the production of a large amount of pale, foul-smelling, loose stools.
Fat, like triglycerides in our blood, is important for a healthy body. Excessively low triglyceride levels can be harmful to health.
Maintaining a healthy triglyceride level is achievable by making dietary modifications and seeking medical support where needed.
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