July 21, 2020

What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. They are also the body’s main storage of fat which can be used for energy. It is possible for the liver to make triglycerides, but we ingest them through our diet, too. They are found predominantly in meat and dairy products as well as cooking oils.

The body can use triglycerides as a source of energy or it can store them up for later use. High triglyceride levels, however, can be harmful to our health and increase the risk of developing heart disease.[1]

Why take a Triglycerides blood test?

A triglyceride blood test measures the number of triglycerides present in the blood. The test can be used to estimate the development of the cardiovascular disease. It is not fully understood whether it is triglycerides which are harmful or an underlying condition which can cause an increase in their levels.

It is possible to keep your triglyceride levels under control by making healthy lifestyle choices. Therefore, having a triglyceride blood test will enable you to make improvements to your lifestyle and give you a better understanding of your blood lipid levels.

You can test your triglycerides level by purchasing a simple at-home finger prick test kit which is then analysed at an accredited lab. Forth offers a number of blood tests which include triglycerides such as a Cholesterol Check which can be purchased for just £39.00 or our best-selling Baseline Plus test which includes a cholesterol check and more than 15 other biomarkers essential to good health.

What function do Triglycerides have in the body?

Triglycerides are a form of dietary fat found in animal products such as meat and dairy. When we consume dietary triglycerides, they are absorbed by the small intestine and then transported around the body via the bloodstream. Tissues take in triglycerides where they can be used to provide energy or stored as fat. Once we’ve eaten a meal, our triglyceride levels naturally rise. Blood clots are also more likely to occur after a fatty meal. Hence, why some people have heart attacks after eating fat-rich meals.

The liver also produces triglycerides when we eat more calories than the body requires. Therefore, the liver produces triglycerides from the excess energy and stores it in the body as fat. When the body requires energy later, the fat can be broken down as used as energy, this is particularly beneficial during times of exercise or starvation.

How do changes in Triglycerides affect health and wellbeing?

Elevated triglycerides are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, research has shown if these levels are returned to normal the risk of the disease decreases.[2]

An extremely high triglyceride level, at least 10-15 mmol/L, increases the risk of pancreatitis. The pancreas is a small organ which aids digestion, pancreatitis occurs when it becomes inflamed.[3]

If you are worried about your triglycerides level or just want to check where you fall on the range, you can test your level with a simple at-home blood test.

What Can Cause Triglycerides To Change?

Triglycerides can be elevated due to primary or secondary causes. Primary causes include an inherited, genetic condition which is responsible for high triglyceride levels. Secondary causes, however, can be linked to our lifestyle such as diet as well as medication.

Inherited conditions include:

  • Familial hypertriglyceridemia
    • Increases triglyceride levels
  • Familial combined hyperlipidaemia
  • Type 3 hyperlipidaemia
    • Both cause elevated triglyceride and cholesterol levels
  • Familial Chylomicronemia Syndrome
    • Causes extremely high triglyceride levels

Secondary causes of elevated triglycerides may be:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Alcohol consumption

There are also some medical conditions which increase triglyceride levels, like kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, pregnancy, gout and an underactive thyroid. Metabolic conditions like metabolic syndrome, obesity and type II diabetes are associated with high triglycerides and low non-HDL cholesterol.[4]

What are the most common symptoms of high Triglycerides?

Individuals with a genetic condition like familial hypertriglyceridemia often experience no symptoms. However, these individuals are more likely to develop conditions such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, because there may be no obvious symptoms to inform you that your triglycerides are raised, it is important to have a triglyceride blood test.[5]

If levels of triglycerides are extremely high then this can lead to pancreatitis.[6] The pancreas aids digestion and produces insulin which the body requires to regulate blood glucose levels. The symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever

How to keep Triglycerides in the healthy range

Following a healthy lifestyle is the best way to control your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Exercise helps to increase HDL levels, while diet can reduce excess cholesterol and saturated fat intake. In short, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake and increasing unsaturated fat intake can all benefit triglyceride levels.

A diet which has been shown to be particularly effective for preventing the development of type II diabetes and keeping ‘bad’ cholesterol levels low is the Mediterranean diet. Classically, the diet has a high fruit, vegetable, nut, olive oil and grain intake alongside a moderate consumption of fish and wine. However, it promotes only a low intake of processed and red meats as well as whole-fat dairy products.

When considering your diet and cholesterol levels, you should:

  • avoid saturated fats
    • butter
    • lard
    • meat
    • full-fat dairy products
  • swap saturated fat cooking products for olive oil, rapeseed, sunflower or corn oil
  • use starchy foods as a base for meals. use wholegrain varieties of:
    • bread
    • pasta
    • rice
    • noodles
    • potatoes
  • try to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day
  • swap full-fat dairy for low-fat or alternatives
  • swap sugary snacks for a handful of nuts
  • porridge can reduce your cholesterol levels and make you feel full up for longer. try to limit the amount of sugar or salt you add and make it with water rather than milk[7]

Some research has shown that incorporating more whole grains into the diet can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have metabolic syndrome. One study showed that participants who followed a 12-week whole grain cereal based dieted reduced their body’s response to triglycerides and postprandial insulin which may have implications for the risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Aerobic exercise is beneficial for heart health. It increases your heart and breathing rate. Aerobic exercise includes activities like:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • using gym equipment[8]

Exercise can also increase HDL levels and reduce triglycerides and non-HDL which, in turn, can help to remove excess cholesterol from the body. Exercise also enhances the ability of the skeletal muscles to use lipids as a source of energy rather than glycogen which reduces blood lipid levels.[9]

Everyone should aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, 5 times weekly to remain healthy and reduce cholesterol levels.

- Health scores calculated



[1] Heart UK. (2019). Triglycerides. Available at:

[2] Budoff, M. (2016). Triglycerides and Triglyceride-Rich Lipoproteins in the Causal Pathway of Cardiovascular Disease. The American Journal of Cardiology.

[3] NHS. (2018). Overview Acute Pancreatitis. Available at:

[4] Heart UK. (2019). Triglycerides. Available at:

[5] Heart UK. (2019). Familial Hypertriglyceridaemia. Available at:

[6] Kota, S, K., Kota, S, K., Jammula, S., Krishna, S, V, S and Modi, K, D. (2012). Hypertriglyceridemia-Induced Recurrent Acute Pancreatitis: A Case Review. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: 16(1), pp 141-143.

[7] Heart UK. (2018). For Good Cholesterol Levels. Available at:

[8] Heart UK. (2018). Physical Activity. Available at:

[9] Mann, S et al. (2014). Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Med: 44(2), pp 211-221.

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This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Nicky Keay

Nicola has extensive clinical and research experience in the fields of endocrinology and sport and exercise medicine. Nicky is a member of the Royal College of Physicians, Honorary Fellow in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University and former Research Fellow at St. Thomas' Hospital.

Dr Nicky Keay

Dr Nicky Keay

BA, MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, MRCP.