High Triglycerides and the COVID Vaccine: What You Should Know
Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
Good health comes from knowledge.
The more we know about our bodies, the better equipped we are to nurture and sustain ourselves. When we know more about the things we put into our bodies — the foods we eat, the medicines we take — the more control we have over how to protect our bodies.
As our knowledge deepens, we can make better-informed choices on the best ways to promote our good health. In order to deepen our knowledge, it’s important to ask questions, inquire about how our bodies work, and learn how certain things can affect us.
We should always strive to learn more when it comes to our health. After all, the more we know, the healthier we can be.
For people concerned about their heart health, it’s worth looking into the facts of whether or not the COVID vaccine can impact triglycerides. After all, the pandemic has largely impacted our lives, and it is always best to stay informed about how new factors might be affecting our health.
Are High Triglycerides and the COVID Vaccine Related?
One study examined the effects of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on a patient with a particular set of prior health conditions. This person had familial hypercholesterolemia, or raised cholesterol levels due to pre-existing genetic factors.
This person had been taking medication to manage these high cholesterol levels. Their case wasn’t all that unique — many people take medication to address their higher than normal cholesterol levels.
One day after taking their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, this person experienced significantly elevated triglyceride levels — raised triglyceride levels are clinically known as hypertriglyceridemia.
Even just one reaction like this to the vaccine allows us to reexamine what we know. What are triglycerides? Could the COVID-19 vaccine affect them? Exploring these questions in good faith allows us to expand our knowledge so that we can know for sure we’re making the right choices regarding our health.
What Are Triglycerides?
You may be familiar with triglycerides if you closely follow your blood lipid test results. It’s one of the lipids measured when you get your cholesterol levels tested, along with LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol.
Triglycerides are a key measure that gives us a better idea about our overall heart health. Your triglyceride levels can tell you a lot about your cardiovascular health. The more you have, the higher your risk of developing heart disease.
Triglycerides are one of the most prominent lipids in your body.
The body creates triglycerides from our food. Whenever we consume calories we don’t use right away, they are converted into triglycerides. They’re stored in fat cells for late usage until our body releases hormones to unlock their stored energy.
When we consume too many calories regularly, we can overload our body with excess triglycerides, potentially resulting in hypertriglyceridemia and increasing our chances of developing certain health risks.
What Health Risks Are Associated With Hypertriglyceridemia?
As triglycerides accumulate in our bloodstream, they may increase our chances of developing arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is a condition that describes the calcifying of the arterial walls of blood vessels and the narrowing of our arteries.
Arteriosclerosis contributes significantly to our risks of developing cardiovascular diseases. It’s been found to be linked to higher rates of stroke and cardiac arrest–or heart attacks. It’s also associated with other conditions that predict heart diseases, like obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The blood vessels and arteries of our circulatory system are of immense importance to our health. Higher levels of triglycerides have been shown to obstruct the work of our circulatory system, blocking up our vessels, shutting down arteries, and straining our heart.
It’s no wonder there might be concern over how the COVID-19 vaccine could affect our triglyceride levels.
But what do the facts say about that? Learning more about COVID-19 and the vaccine could give us some insight.
What Should I Know About the COVID Vaccine?
COVID-19 is a highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 virus that primarily affects the respiratory system, impacting the ability to breathe. COVID-19 is spread when infected people cough, sneeze, or even just breathe — tiny respiratory particles of liquid that contain the virus enter the air, and thus can be inhaled by others.
These particles can range in size. When other people come into contact with these particles, they may themselves develop COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine was developed to help slow the spread of the virus, as well as to prevent severe cases.
How Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Work?
Vaccines work by activating the natural defenses of our immune system. Our bodies respond to a vaccine by releasing white blood cells like macrophages, B-lymphocytes, and T-lymphocytes to attack, contain, and build defensive antibodies to the virus.
The COVID-19 vaccines tend to be mRNA vaccines, meaning they use a copy of messenger mRNA to cause the immune response that builds immunity to the virus.
Is the COVID Vaccine Safe?
Over the history of vaccine usage in the modern medical era, there have been abnormal instances where the vaccine has caused negative effects called adverse events. These rare side effects are extremely minor, and the vaccine is highly effective — this may be enough to make it worth it for most people.
There have been 562 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine distributed through the United States since December 14, 2020. Complications from the vaccine have been slim to none. With the exception of extremely rare side effects, the vaccine has proven to be perfectly safe.
Here are a few statistics that show how few and far between adverse events are.
Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction. It is extremely rare for people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine to experience anaphylaxis after the shot. Five people for every one million have experienced anaphylaxis symptoms throughout the vaccine rollout.
Thrombosis With Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS)
TTS is an adverse event that can result in blood clots in larger blood vessels and a reduced number of platelets. Out of the 18.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distributed in the United States, the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration have reported 60 incidents of people developing TTS from the J & J vaccine.
Myocarditis and Pericarditis
Myocarditis and pericarditis, respectively, are events where the heart muscles become inflamed and the outer lining of the heart becomes inflamed. The CDC and the FDA have reported 1,407 instances of these adverse events occurring in people who received the vaccine. Most patients responded to and quickly recovered from their symptoms after being administered medicine.
Of the 562 million shots administered across the US, there are a fractional amount of adverse events like the ones listed and the first study mentioned at the beginning of this article. The fact of the matter is that the COVID-19 vaccine is overwhelmingly safe, with plenty of resources available to corroborate its effectiveness and the few instances where there have been adverse events.
Alternatively, for people with triglyceridemia or raised cholesterol levels, the risks of contracting Covid-19 can prove to be significant. In fact, people who have familial hypercholesterolemia have a higher risk of developing a severe illness if they contract COVID-19, the very condition that the person in the study opening this article had.
Basically, an unvaccinated person with higher cholesterol or triglyceride levels faces far, far more danger of contracting COVID-19 dwarf than they do taking the COVID-19 vaccine, which to reiterate, has a risk level that is virtually non-existent.
We should always practice caution whenever we make decisions about our health. Consulting the right resources, like your healthcare provider or your general physician, is part of the informed decision-making that steers us on course in our journey towards better health.
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Case study of hypertriglyceridemia from COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination in a patient with familial hypercholesterolemia | The National Library of Medicine
Triglycerides: Why do they matter? | Mayo Clinic
Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) | World Health Organization
Understanding How the Covid-19 Vaccine Works | CDC
Safety of Covid-19 Vaccines | CDC
Selected Adverse Events Reported After Covid-19 Vaccination | CDC
Ensuring COVID-19 Vaccine Safety in the US | CDC
Coronavirus and cholesterol | Heart UK