Triglycerides: A potent heart disease risk factor

MUNSTER, GERMANY. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol combined with a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is a potent risk factor for heart disease. There is also some evidence that high triglyceride levels are detrimental (especially in women), but just how much of a risk they pose has not been clear. Now researchers at the University of Munster report that high triglyceride levels alone or in combination with high LDL levels and low HDL levels are indeed a potent risk factor.

Their study involved 19,698 men and women, aged 16 to 65 years, who were enrolled between 1979 and 1985. After 8 years of follow-up the researchers concluded that elevated triglyceride levels are a significant and independent risk factor for a major coronary event (fatal or nonfatal heart attack or sudden cardiac death). This association held true even after adjusting for LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, age, blood pressure, smoking, angina, diabetes, and family history of heart disease. A combination of high triglyceride levels with a high LDL level and a LDL:HDL ratio greater than 5 was found to increase risk by a factor of 6. Other studies have found that a 1.0 mmol/L (88 mg/dL) increase in triglyceride levels increased the risk of cardiovascular disease in men by 30% and by 75% in women. Of particular interest is the finding that a high ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol is a powerful risk factor for a major cardiac event even when LDL cholesterol levels are normal.

Editor’s note: Independent research has shown that fish oil supplementation is highly effective in reducing triglyceride levels and lowering the triglyceride/HDL ratio. One study found that taking 8 fish oil capsules daily (providing 2.4 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid and 1.6 grams of docosahexaenoic acid) reduced triglyceride levels by about 26% and triglyceride/HDL ratio by 28% in women. Another study found an average reduction of 38% in triglyceride levels and an increase of HDL levels of 24% in both men and women consuming fish on a daily basis.
Cullen, Paul. Evidence that triglycerides are an independent coronary heart disease risk factor. American Journal of Cardiology, Vol. 86, November 1, 2000, pp. 943-49

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