Americans need to start monitoring a form of fat in the bloodstream, known as triglycerides, because it poses a risk for heart disease, a panel of experts said today.
"There is growing evidence that triglycerides contribute to atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] and heart disease," said Dr. Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., one of the committee's co-chairmen and department of medicine chairman at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
After three years of reviewing research evidence, the panel -- comprised of 28 scientists from 13 countries -- now recommends that blood triglyceride levels above 200 deserve attention.
Levels between 200 and 500 are considered borderline high, with levels above 500 judged too high and in need of treatment. For most Americans, triglyceride levels below 200 are considered normal.
In a series of papers due to appear in the Aug. 1 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, and discussed in New York today, the panel urged physicians to consider triglyceride levels as well as cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins or LDL's -- the "bad" cholesterol -- and high-density lipoproteins or HDL's -- the "good" cholesterol-- in evaluating patients for heart disease risk.
"Many studies have shown a positive correlation between elevated serum triglyceride levels and increased risk of coronary disease in both men and women," said Dr. Rodolfo Paoletti, another panel co-chairman from Milan, Italy.
Triglycerides and cholesterol are the two primary types of lipid, or fat, in the blood. High triglycerides can be genetic or acquired, but often result from secondary causes, such as diabetes, renal disease, obesity, smoking or alcohol consumption.
For high triglycerides, the panel recommended:
* A reduced-calorie diet to control excess weight.
* No more than 30 percent of total calories from fat.
* Limiting saturated fats to less than 10 percent of calories.
* Increasing carbohydrate intake from high-fiber fruits and vegetables, whole grains and cereals to 50 to 60 percent of calories.
* Less alcohol consumption.