This lipid plays a bigger part than you realize.
The strongest predictors of a woman’s stroke risk may be the most over-looked lipids in your cholesterol profile, according to a new study published online Feb. 2, 2012, in the journal Stroke.
Scientists looked at more than 900 post-menopausal women and found that those with the highest levels of triglycerides were 56% more likely to have an ischemic stroke (the type due to blood vessel blockage) as those with the lowest levels.
Harvard Medical School professor and endocrinologist Dr. JoAnn Manson is not surprised by the findings.
“It’s in line with other cardiovascular outcomes that have been linked to high triglyceride levels, especially in women, so it’s plausible that high triglycerides are also associated with an increased risk of stroke,” she says.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that usually is measured whenever your total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) are measured.
While it’s unclear exactly how triglycerides are physiologically linked to stroke, high triglycerides are a hallmark of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors for heart disease such as abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and inflammation.
These factors often cluster together and are present with high triglyceride levels. That makes it important to pay attention to your triglyceride level when you receive your cholesterol results. Aim for a triglyceride level below 150.
“Once you get above 150, that’s an elevated range,” says Dr. Manson. “But where you really have to worry about other risks such as pancreatitis is with levels of 400, 500 or higher.”
Sometimes medications are used to treat high triglyceride levels, including niacin, fibrates and even fish oil capsules. The high doses of omega-3 fatty acid fats required to lower triglyceride levels may need to be given by prescription.
But Dr. Manson says the best approach to reduce your triglycerides and your stroke risk is a lifestyle change that lowers blood pressure and improves the overall lipid profile.
“Weight loss will help tremendously with lowering the triglyceride levels,” says Dr. Manson, “so will restricting refined carbohydrates and replacing them with whole grains and fruits and vegetables.”
Dr. Manson says other ways for women to lower their triglycerides include exercise, reducing alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day, eating fish, and, if taking oral estrogen therapy, discontinuing hormone therapy or changing to a transdermal preparation.
Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your triglyceride levels.