Mired in the shadows of cholesterol sit fats in our blood that we should all know plenty about. Triglycerides are cousins of cholesterol and can reap the same kind of damage — and perhaps worse. Any health advice for your heart worth its salt would trumpet the importance of maintaining healthy triglyceride levels.
A study in Denmark revealed that increasing levels of non-fasting triglycerides are linked with an increased risk of ischemic stroke in men and women. Higher cholesterol levels were associated with greater stroke risk in men only. This is a huge new 33-year study whose results are published in the “Annals of Neurology.”
According to the World Health Organization, heart diseases are the number one cause of death globally. A large proportion of those deaths are caused by stroke. The American Stroke Association says that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. — and 87% of all cases are attributed to ischemic stroke. This occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is obstructed. That blockage is typically caused by the build-up of fatty deposits inside triglycerides (atherosclerosis).
Having high triglycerides means that there are high amounts of fat molecules in the blood, similar to cholesterol, and both are thought to contribute to plaque build-up. Now, current stroke prevention material has recommendations on what you should aim for with cholesterol, but not triglycerides. That is not the soundest doctor’s advice.
So the new study is the first to see how the risk of stroke for very high levels of triglycerides compared with very high cholesterol levels. The results prove we should be paying close attention to cholesterol’s cousin.
Researchers tracked 7,579 women and 6,372 men, whose triglycerides and cholesterol measurements were taken in the late 1970s. They were followed for up to 33 years. During the follow-up period, 837 women and 837 men developed ischemic stroke.
It showed that both men and women had a higher risk if they had high levels of triglycerides. The worst culprits were triglyceride levels of five mmol/L (443 mg/dL) or more. They carried a four times’ greater risk (that is 400%) than those with good levels. As for cholesterol, increasing levels was not associated with greater risk of ischemic stroke, except in men whose cholesterol levels were equal to nine mmol/L (348 mg/dL) or more.
There is no question that levels of non-fasting triglycerides should be considered in stroke prevention. Ask your doctor about getting your triglycerides checked several times a year. If you do have high levels, you’ll have to work with your doctor on making lifestyle and diet changes to get them back in check.