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You Are What You Eat: Triglycerides and Diet

I must confess that I am a Steve Martin fan. Like me he studied philosophy in his earlier days. He plays a banjo like I wish I could. And he is funny. In 1987 he was in a movie entitled “Roxanne”. He played a small town fire chief with an enormous nose who fell in love with a beautiful astronomer played by Daryl Hannah.

The only problem was she had an eye for a younger fireman with a relatively normal nose. Bales (Steve Martin), having a poetic command of the English language, agreed to coach the younger and much more awkward man in his pursuit of the educated astronomer. It is a hilarious twist on an old story.

In one of the more sober scenes C.’s friend Trixie encourages him to pursue the young maiden for himself since he was obviously in love with her. She makes her point by saying the truth “is as plain as the nose on your face.” Well said. Many people today are concerned about their triglyceride levels. And rightly so. High triglycerides have been marked as an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD). But in all the scramble to reduce our triglycerides many doctors have been trying to tell us that the truth is as plain as the nose on our collective face. Triglycerides are a form of fat.

In fact they are the most prevalent form of fat in our bodies. Our bodies make triglycerides and we consume them in our diets. Even though we live in culture where ‘thin is in’, fat is a good thing. Triglycerides in particular are good because they are the form of fat our bodies use for energy. But like many things more is not necessarily better. Triglycerides truly represent an example of the maxim, ‘too much of a good thing’. In this case too much can contribute to serious health side effects especially in relation to heart health. So if your triglycerides are too high get them down. But how? How do we get them down? To answer this question it is first helpful to understand what causes our triglycerides to rise. There are several causes which we will only mention in passing because they do not compose the main subject of this essay.

There are certain medical conditions that elevate triglyceride levels such as hypothyroidism, kidney disease, liver disease, familial hypertriglyceridemia and pregnancy. And of course medical conditions are often accompanied by medications that negatively impact triglycerides. Among these are oral contraceptives, estrogen replacement therapy, certain steroids, diuretics, beta-blockers, newer classes of antipsychotic medications, cyclosporine, glucocorticoids, progesterone, retinoids and tamoxifen to mention a handful. The above mentioned factors can contribute to a rise in serum triglycerides. But they are by no means the most common. For most of us our problems lie elsewhere. Diabetes is a common cause of high triglycerides. Unfortunately diabetes is a two-pronged fork. Not only does it affect triglyceride levels but diabetics are more susceptible to the damage that results from factors such as high triglycerides. Obesity, whatever the reason, causes higher levels of triglycerides to hang around in the blood.

As our nation gets progressively heavier higher cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as the heart damage that accompanies them, will become more common. Now for the rest of us. For most of us our triglycerides are high for one reason. The truth is as plain as the nose on C.’s face. We are what we eat. Doctors, though themselves seldom the epitome of health, have been telling us for years to watch what we eat. With all the medical advances over the past several decades diet and exercise are still the primary and most effective methods for promoting heart health, especially in relation to cholesterol and triglycerides and the damage they can cause.


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