We’ve all heard of people who’ve suddenly experienced a life-threatening heart attack or stroke, despite seeming fit and healthy. The truth is, even people who look outwardly healthy can have serious cardiovascular risk factors that fly under the radar. While cholesterol and blood pressure may be the first things that come to mind, researchers have pinpointed another risk factor that can predict coronary heart disease long before a serious cardiac incident occurs—your triglyceride to HDL cholesterol ratio, or TG/HDL. The good news is that, once you know your TG/HDL status, you can take steps to keep your ratio in the healthy range and reduce your risk of a cardiovascular emergency.
What Exactly Is TG/HDL?
Both triglycerides and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol play key roles in heart health, but they work in different ways. Triglycerides are a type of fat that circulates in your bloodstream and acts as an important source of energy. But if your triglycerides are too high, your risk of heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome goes up. HDL (good) cholesterol, on the other hand, helps clear LDL (bad) cholesterol from your blood. Since this helps to prevent atherosclerosis, a narrowing and stiffening of arteries due to the buildup of plaque, the higher your HDL levels, the better.
Recently, scientists discovered that, by looking at these two numbers together, they could predict the risk of serious cardiovascular disease in otherwise healthy people. They calculated the TG/HDL ratio by dividing a person’s total triglycerides by their HDL cholesterol level. For example, if your triglycerides level is 150 and your HDL level is 50, your TG/HDL ratio would be 3:1.
Ideally, your ratio should be 2:1 or less. A ratio higher than that indicates that you’re on a path toward developing serious cardiovascular disease.
High TG/HDL Increases Your Health Risk
Even if you don’t currently have any health issues, a high TG/HDL ratio can point to a greater risk of developing cardiovascular or metabolic diseases. Research shows that a ratio higher than 2:1 could lead to:
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
In addition, high TG/HDL ratios predict worse outcomes if you do suffer from a cardiac event like a heart attack.
Three Proactive Botanicals Help Lower Your TG/HDL
Luckily, early detection can give you the opportunity to improve your ratio and your overall cardiovascular health. And the best way to accomplish this comes straight from nature.
Amla. Officially known as Emblica officinalis and commonly called Indian gooseberry, amla has been a staple of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Packed with antioxidant-rich polyphenols, amla delivers dozens of health benefits including blood sugar management, improved liver health, and digestive tract protection. But amla also acts as a cholesterol- and triglyceride-balancing superstar. A 2019 study published in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies showed that amla has a profound effect on cholesterol, triglycerides, and other measures of heart health. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, amla reduced the TG/HDL ratio by 39 percent in just 12 weeks. Plus, the herb significantly improved other risk factors including LDL cholesterol and C-reactive protein, a marker for systemic inflammation. But to get the best results, look for a clinically studied amla fruit extract in a 25:1 ratio and standardized to contain at least 35 percent polyphenol content.
Grape seed extract. This extract contains powerful plant chemicals called oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) that deliver numerous benefits for your cardiovascular system. Studies show that OPCs protect against cholesterol oxidation while also improving blood pressure, blood flow, and blood vessel health. But the antioxidant-rich OPCs in grape seed extract also play an important role in supporting a healthy TG/HDL ratio. A 2020 meta-analysis published in Phytotherapy Research showed that grape seed extract lowered triglyceride levels by an average 6.55 points. The analysis, which included results from 50 randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trials, also found that grape seed extract significantly reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, and C-reactive protein.
Just be aware that, although there are many grape seed extracts on the market, they aren’t necessarily all effective. This is because many supplements contain large molecules called tannins that are poorly absorbed by the body. Instead, seek out a tannin-free French grape seed extract that contains only low–molecular weight OPCs to ensure optimal absorption.
Olive leaf extract. The leaves of the olive tree deliver powerful heart health benefits, largely due to a unique compound called oleuropein. Well known for its ability to improve blood pressure, blood sugar, and inflammation, oleuropein also works to reduce the TG/HDL ratio. In one 2022 analysis of 12 randomized, controlled trials published in Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, researchers found that supplementing with olive leaf extract decreased triglycerides by an average of 9.51 points. Along with that stunning reduction, the participants taking the olive leaf extract also experienced a significant drop in their LDL and total cholesterol levels. But to optimize these heart-healthy benefits, choose an olive leaf extract that’s standardized to contain 16 to 24 percent oleuropein.