DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What are triglycerides? What do they do to you? I am a 55-year-old male in good health, or so I thought. My lab tests have shown I have elevated triglycerides. My doctor believes I need to make funeral arrangements. He told me to cut down on fats. I have never eaten much fat. I don’t use butter. How do I get my level down? — R.F.
ANSWER: Triglycerides are fats. The marbling in meat and the stuff that surrounds a cut of meat are triglycerides. In the blood, they are not solids. They’re a source of energy for body cells. Excess amounts are stored as fat.
Cholesterol gets all the blame for clogging heart arteries and causing heart attacks. But triglycerides bear part of the blame. A very high blood triglyceride level inflames the pancreas — pancreatitis. That happens, but is a somewhat rare event compared with other causes of pancreatitis.
The normal triglyceride reading should be less than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L). Values between 150 and 199 (1.7 to 2.2) are considered borderline high. Anything above 500 (5.6) is very high.
Weight reduction almost always brings down triglycerides. Fatty foods, fatty meats and fried foods should be eaten sparingly. Surprisingly, sugar raises triglycerides, as does immoderate alcohol drinking. Omega-3 fatty acids lower them. Fish — a good source of omega-3 fatty acids — therefore, ought to be a major part of two weekly meals. If you don’t like the taste of fish, you can take omega-3 in pills.
I know people must cringe when they hear exercise mentioned, as it appears to be a panacea for every ill. A half-hour of brisk walking on most days of the week reliably lowers triglycerides. You can start more modestly, and work your way to the 30-minute goal.
If none of these lowers your triglycerides, medicines can. Lopid, Tricor and niacin are three reliable drugs.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I just received a lab slip from my doctor’s office for tests that should be done before my visit. Electrolytes are circled. What are they? They sound like something to do with electricity. — M.Z.
ANSWER: Electrolytes are sodium, potassium, bicarbonate and chloride. They do have something to do with electricity — they carry a charge.
They’re involved in a huge number of body processes, including keeping the heart beating, facilitating nerve transmission, helping muscle contractions and maintaining the balance between acids and bases.
The booklet on electrolytes describes their functions and details the things that can go wrong when one or other is deficient or excessive. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 202W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have trouble with weak ankles. I am always twisting one or the other. Which is better for me — tape or an elastic brace? — T.J.
ANSWER: I take you to mean you have this problem when you’re jogging or running. An elastic wrap provides longer-lasting support for the ankles than tape does. Tape loses its gripping power somewhat quickly.
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