To examine the relation of triglycerides with coronary heart disease among populations with low mean total cholesterol, the authors conducted a 15.5-year prospective study ending in 1997 of 11,068 Japanese aged 40-69 years (4,452 men and 6,616 women with mean total cholesterol = 4.73 mmol/liter and 5.03 mmol/liter, respectively), initially free of coronary heart disease or stroke. There were 236 coronary heart disease events comprising 133 myocardial infarctions, 68 angina pectoris events, and 44 sudden cardiac deaths. The coronary heart disease incidence was greater in a dose-response manner across increasing quartiles of nonfasting triglycerides for both sexes. The multivariate relative risk of coronary heart disease adjusting for coronary risk factors and time since last meal associated with a 1-mmol/liter increase in triglycerides was 1.29 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.09, 1.53; p = 0.004) for men and 1.42 (95% CI: 1.15, 1.75; p = 0.001) for women. The trend was similar for myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, and sudden cardiac death. The relation of triglycerides with coronary heart disease was not influenced materially by total cholesterol levels or, in a subsample analysis (51% of total sample), by high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Nonfasting serum triglycerides predict the incidence of coronary heart disease among Japanese men and women who possess low mean values of total cholesterol. Further adjustment for high density lipoprotein cholesterol suggests an independent role of triglycerides on the coronary heart disease risk.