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Here's a new strategy for lowering triglyceride levels

A doctor writing on a prescription pad.

Sept. 11, 2019—People with high triglyceride levels may want to talk with their doctor about adding a prescription omega-3 fatty acid medication to their cholesterol-lowering therapy.

That's according to a new advisory published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Triglycerides are a type of fat that circulates in the blood. A review of 17 clinical trials found that treatment plans consisting of 4 grams of prescription omega-3 fatty acid medication taken daily reduces triglyceride levels by 20% to 30%. And they can be used safely alongside statin medicines to control cholesterol.

There are two prescription omega-3 fatty acid medications available. One combines two types of fatty acids—EPA and DHA—and the other provides EPA alone. They haven't been tested head-to-head, so the advisory doesn't recommend one over the other.

It does however, state that you shouldn't try treating high triglycerides with over-the-counter dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Who should be prescribed omega-3s?

Some studies have found that high triglycerides—above 200 mg/dL—can cause narrowing of the arteries. That increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Very high triglycerides—above 500 mg/dL—can also cause pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas.

Currently the FDA has OK'd prescription omega-3 fatty acid medications only for treating very high triglyceride levels above 500 mg/dL.

Other ways to lower levels

Healthy lifestyle choices also can reduce triglyceride levels. These include:

  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Losing weight.
  • Avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  • Avoiding alcohol.
  • Choosing healthy plant-based fats instead of saturated fats.

Triglycerides are typically measured in cholesterol tests. Learn more about the different types of cholesterol and how they affect your health.

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