Triglycerides and drinking?

Originally Published: February 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 21, 2014
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Dear Alice,

What does it mean if you have a high tri-glyceride level and what does it have to do with drinking?

Signed,

Don't mix?

Dear Don’t Mix,

A quick biology review might help here, so let’s start off with what triglycerides actually are. Triglycerides are the major form of fat in your body and in food. Besides supplying your body with essential fatty acids, they also insulate the body, supply and store energy, and transport fat-soluble vitamins. Triglycerides also add flavor and texture to foods, and they can even satisfy your hunger!

Here’s where it gets a little complicated. Fats are carried through the bloodstream by various lipoproteins, including Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). The greater the amount of triglycerides in the lipoproteins, the less their density. So, a high triglyceride level would imply a higher LDL level and/or a lower HDL-cholesterol level, both of which can increase your risk for serious conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Now, what’s the connection between drinking alcohol and high triglyceride levels? It’s all about calories! Alcohol is full of calories (it’s also full of sugar) and any extra calories turn into triglycerides. The triglycerides are then stored in your body as fat. This means that high alcohol consumption can increase your triglyceride levels. Most health professionals recommend reducing alcohol intake or cutting out alcohol entirely if you’re trying to manage your triglyceride levels.

Besides adjusting your alcohol intake, there are a variety of other ways to help lower your triglyceride levels. Cutting back on sugary foods and drinks is something you might consider, as is reducing your cholesterol intake by being mindful of foods with high levels of cholesterol. For instance, you might replace egg yolks for egg whites. You could also try to steer clear of foods high in trans fat. If partially hydrogenated oil is listed on a food label as an ingredient, it means the product contains trans fat. Getting more exercise is another great option you could consider to lower those triglyceride levels (just taking the stairs instead of the elevator counts as physical activity!). Regular exercise helps raise your HDL levels (the “good” cholesterol) and lower your LDL levels (the “bad” cholesterol).

Remember, it’s always a good idea to talk with a health care provider before making major changes to your diet or exercise routine. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment at Medical Services (Morningside) or Student Health Service (CUMC campus). You might also check out Alice!'s Get Balanced Guide for Healthier Eating for some tips on how to incorporate more healthy foods into your diet.

Alice