While many of us obsess over our cholesterol levels, few are aware of a blood fat circulating through the body that is much more significant for our health.
As I’ve often pointed out, your cholesterol levels only possess a dubious relationship to your health and longevity. In fact, as I’ve also discussed before, a large study indicated that older people with higher levels of so-called bad cholesterol (LDL) actually have a higher life expectancy than those with lower levels.1
Instead, you should be more concerned about a certain class of blood fats that have repeatedly been shown to influence your cancer risk as well as possibly compromising your heart’s well-being.
Tests show that if you can maintain low levels of these fats, you may increase your life expectancy.2 Allow me to fill you in on how to control this substance and lower your chance of cancer…
The blood fats I’m talking about are triglycerides. Every time you eat, some of the food you digest gets converted to triglycerides which are burned for energy or stored in fat cells.
Generally speaking, if you consistently consume large meals, frequently snack and are overweight, your blood triglyceride levels will likely be high enough to endanger your heart health and boost your cancer risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our triglyceride levels tend to rise as we age. By the time a typical American hits age 60, about three out of ten will have triglyceride levels that are too high.3 (Too high is considered over 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Under 100 is often thought to be optimal.)4
To be fair, doctors usually test for triglycerides along with cholesterol, but the “t” test always seems to be treated like a poor stepsister. That’s a mistake.
The cancers most often linked to high triglycerides include lung cancer as well as thyroid and rectal cancer. In women, high triglycerides are connected with gynecological cancers.5 And in men who’ve had prostate cancer, elevated triglycerides are connected with a bigger risk of the cancer recurring.6
High triglycerides stamp out
critical stores of vitamin E
One issue with letting your triglycerides climb (and I’ll get to how to keep them down in a minute), is that they choke off your supply of vitamin E and keep it from being able to leave the bloodstream and enter cells to provide antioxidant protection. And without that extra protection, oxidative stress may lead to harmful inflammation that makes parts of your body more vulnerable to cancer and other health problems.
A study at Oregon State University demonstrates that as your triglycerides levels go up, the delivery of vitamin E to your cells goes down. The researchers point out that in the past, experts believed that over 80 percent of the vitamin E in your blood is usually distributed to tissues around the body. But high triglyceride levels can drop this down to under 24 percent.7
The result: Your cells are more vulnerable to the destructive power of free radicals. These free radicals can trigger oxidation that tears holes in cell membranes and can potentially lead to genetic damage that causes cancer.
And if you’re overweight, your extra adipose—or fatty— tissue can also get in the way of your vitamin E distribution. Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and transported in the blood along with fat, the presence of too much fatty tissue in your organs, say the Oregon scientists, leads to vitamin E being kept out of those areas.
“So even though the tissues are facing serious oxidative stress,” says researcher Maret Traber, “the delivery of vitamin E to them is being impaired, and they are not getting enough of this important micronutrient.”
And if that’s not enough, Oregon researchers discovered another problem of being overweight: When fat accumulates in your liver, as it often does when you are obese, the liver may hold onto much of the vitamin E it possesses and never release it into the bloodstream.8 This reduces the body’s useful supply of this antioxidant that, among other jobs, is also needed to aid healthy vision and neurological functions.
How to lower triglycerides
As you might expect, the foods you eat can significantly affect your triglyceride levels. Staying away from the added sugars dumped into soft drinks, fast food and processed food is crucial. Research at Emory University in Atlanta shows that people who consume more of these extra sugars have higher triglycerides.9
In light of these findings, Emory researcher Miriam Vos has stated the obvious, “It would be important for long-term health for people to start looking at how much added sugar they’re getting and finding ways to reduce that.”
Other ways to help moderate your triglycerides include:
Eat more blueberries and mushrooms. Lab tests in Brazil show that blueberries have phytochemicals that help the body lower triglycerides.10 And research shows that a natural chemical called ergothioneine in mushrooms can help reduce these blood fats.11
Get more omega-3 fats from fish and fish oil. Tests at Oregon State show that omega-3s can reduce triglycerides circulating in the blood.12
Try alpha lipoic acid supplements. Tests in Europe have found that women with Type 2 diabetes who took 600 mg a day of alpha lipoic acid reduced their triglycerides and had an easier time losing weight.13
One of the quickest ways to start lowering your triglycerides is to get up and do some exercise, even if it’s just walking around the block.
Tests show that when your muscles go into action, their contractions lead to the secretion of a substance call β-aminoisobutyric acid (BAIBA), that tells your liver to cool it with the triglycerides. You might remember from grade school biology that the liver makes triglycerides and releases them into circulation.
Lab tests at Harvard show that along with lowering triglycerides, BAIBA has epigenetic effects that cause fat cells to burn off more calories. It also helps in the reduction of body weight and works to reduce blood sugar.14 Epigenetic effects involve environmental factors – such as exercise or the food you eat – that turn genes off or on. So, as an added benefit, you’ll probably lose a little weight and increase your muscle mass while dropping your triglycerides.
Finally, get out of that chair!
I have one other warning about triglycerides: If you do too much sitting during the day, staying in your chair for hours at a time, that inactivity may limit the triglyceride-lowering benefit you get from exercise.15 The finding comes from a study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Texas study had college students sit for most of the day, eat ice cream and then spend an hour exercising. The result: All of that sitting and the sugary ice cream raised their triglycerides, and the hour of exercise didn’t bring them down much.
The researchers believe that an overdose of sitting still for too long without moving around makes the body secrete substances that won’t let triglyceride levels go down during exercise. They’re still looking into why that happens.
But the lesson is clear: Keep moving. Get up from your chair at least once an hour or so. Otherwise a health disaster may be gaining on you.