While many of us are concerned about the fat we carry around on our waistlines, if you’re like many Americans, there’s another fat in your body that may pose an equal or greater problem – the fat you carry around in your blood.
Of course, extra pounds of fat around your middle are unhealthy. But excessive fats in your blood – the kind known as triglycerides — have been linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
To get even more specific, triglycerides have been linked to lung, rectal and thyroid cancer in men as well as prostate cancer. In women, they are connected with gynecological cancers.1,2
How do your triglycerides get out of control? Here’s one reason – and it’s not eating. . .
Continued below. . .
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Sitting for long periods of time is a prime reason your triglycerides can climb too high.
Too many of us spend way too much of our time sitting and not moving. At work we sit immobile at a desk. At home we plant ourselves in front of a TV or other video screen.
And when that describes your typical day and evening, you’re letting your body sink into a torpor that leads to heavy doses of blood fats released into the bloodstream.
High levels of triglycerides encourage inflammation – causing harmful immune cell attacks against the body’s own organs. These fats also interfere with the body’s antioxidant defenses against cellular damage.
Pounding your vitamin E
One important result of having too many triglycerides running around in your blood is the negative effect it has on your vitamin E.
High levels of triglycerides block vitamin E from leaving the bloodstream and protecting your organs from what’s known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress hurts your cells when free radicals accumulate and begin to disrupt cell membranes by oxidizing them.
Familiar examples of oxidation are rusting iron or the flesh of an apple turning brown. Something like that happens to your cells when they’re attacked by free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals.
Under normal circumstances, vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that is fat soluble (it can enter fatty structures like cell membranes) is especially crucial for protecting the liver, skin, eyes and brain.
A study at Oregon State University analyzed the activity of vitamin E in more than 40 people, finding that the level of triglycerides in circulating blood directly influences how well vitamin E is delivered to various organs.3
While previously it had been estimated that more than 80 percent of the vitamin E in the circulatory system migrates to the body’s cells, the Oregon research showed that triglycerides could restrict this movement. The study showed that, on average, only 24 percent of vitamin E was absorbed by the body from the blood.
“People with elevated lipids (fats) in their blood plasma are facing increased inflammation as a result,” warns Prof. Maret Traber, one of the Oregon researchers. “Almost every tissue in their body is under oxidative attack, and needs more vitamin E. But the vitamin E needed to protect these tissues is stuck on the freeway, in the circulatory system. It’s going round and round instead of getting to the tissues where it’s needed.”
If you are overweight, you may be suffering a sort of double-whammy that limits your bodily distribution of vitamin E. The Oregon scientists found that, in addition to the impediment caused by triglycerides, because vitamin E travels in the blood dissolved in fat, having too much body fat leads to further restrictions in taking vitamin E out of the blood.
“What we found was that tissues of obese people are rejecting intake of some of these lipids because they already have enough fat,” says Prof. Traber. “In the process they also reject the associated vitamin E. So even though the tissues are facing serious oxidative stress, the delivery of vitamin E to them is being impaired, and they are not getting enough of this important micronutrient.”
According to Prof. Traber, the vitamin E in the blood does serve a purpose – it keeps cholesterol from being oxidized and blocking arteries. But that doesn’t do any good for the organs that are meanwhile being deprived of E.
Of course, you don’t have to just sit there and accept a growing accumulation of triglycerides. You can move your body and thereby move those fats out of the bloodstream.
The liver makes triglycerides
Triglycerides are manufactured in your liver and then released into the blood. They are supposed to distribute energy – in the form of fat – throughout the body. They also supply the fat that gets stored in fat cells.
Problems start when the liver begins to manufacture and release way too many triglycerides into the circulatory system. And sitting down too long without getting up encourages the liver to slip into triglyceride overdrive.
Researchers have recently recognized that the liver depends on the release of metabolic chemicals created when you contract and move your muscles. The muscle exertion emits a signal that lets the liver know it should limit its triglyceride production.
A study at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital shows that working muscles release a substance called β-aminoisobutyric acid (BAIBA) that, along with bringing down triglycerides, increases the involvement of fat cells in burning calories, balances blood sugar and helps take off weight.4
Circadian rhythms and triglycerides
Along with moving your body more often to bring down your triglycerides, putting it to bed early and getting enough sleep is another important factor in limiting these blood fats.
Research at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn shows that if your daily circadian rhythms are disrupted by lack of sleep your triglycerides can climb.5
These researchers found that a series of complicated chemical reactions in the body that are controlled by the cells’ timing machinery influences triglyceride levels. If these clocks are thrown off because you’re watching late night TV or working the late shift, the blood’s content of triglycerides swells.
How to lower your blood fats
Aside from getting more sleep and not sitting so much, there are a number of other ways to combat high levels of triglycerides:
- Eat less sugar and be sure to cut down on soft drinks containing high fructose corn syrup. USDA research shows that the more sugar you eat, the higher your risk for high triglycerides.6
- Cut back on fried foods. The trans fats in fried foods can increase your triglycerides.7
- Eat more fish and take fish oil supplements. These can lower your harmful blood fats.8
- Limit your alcoholic beverages to one or two drinks daily.
- Eat more apples. The ursolic acid in apples reduces triglycerides.9
Another way to lower triglycerides is to take alpha lipoic acid supplements. A study at the University of Oregon found that ALA helps the body clear triglycerides from the blood and also limits the liver’s triglyceride production.10
But I don’t recommend supplements as a dodge to avoid exercise. No matter which supplements you take or how you alter your diet, you still should avoid sitting for long periods of time without getting up and moving around. To escape high triglycerides, get out of that chair.