Endocr Pract. 2017 Jan;23(1):100-112. doi: 10.4158/EP161445.RA. Epub 2016 Nov 7.


Objective: To provide an overview of the roles of triglycerides and triglyceride-lowering agents in atherosclerosis in the context of cardiovascular outcomes studies.

Methods: We reviewed the published literature as well as entries for ongoing studies.

Results: Despite improved atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) outcomes with statin therapy, residual risk remains. Epidemiologic data and recent genetic insights provide compelling evidence that triglycerides are in the causal pathway for the development of atherosclerosis, thereby renewing interest in targeting triglycerides to improve ASCVD outcomes. Fibrates, niacin, and omega-3 fatty acids (OM3FAs) are three classes of triglyceride-lowering drugs. Outcome studies with triglyceride-lowering agents have been inconsistent. With regard to OM3FAs, the JELIS study showed that eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) significantly reduced major coronary events in statin-treated hypercholesterolemic patients. Regarding other agents, extended-release niacin and fenofibrate are no longer recommended as statin add-on therapy (by some guidelines, though not all) because of the lack of convincing evidence from outcome studies. Notably, subgroup analyses from the outcome studies have generated the hypothesis that triglyceride lowering may provide benefit in statin-treated patients with persistent hypertriglyceridemia. Two ongoing OM3FA outcome studies (REDUCE-IT and STRENGTH) are testing this hypothesis in high-risk, statin-treated patients with triglyceride levels of 200 to 500 mg/dL.

Conclusion: There is consistent evidence that triglycerides are in the causal pathway of atherosclerosis but inconsistent evidence from cardiovascular outcomes studies as to whether triglyceride-lowering agents reduce cardiovascular risk. Ongoing outcomes studies will determine the role of triglyceride lowering in statin-treated patients with high-dose prescription OM3FAs in terms of improved ASCVD outcomes.

Abbreviations: AACE = American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists ACCORD = Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes AIM-HIGH = Atherothrombosis Intervention in Metabolic Syndrome with Low HDL/High Triglycerides: Impact on Global Health Outcomes apo = apolipoprotein ASCEND = A Study of Cardiovascular Events in Diabetes ASCVD = atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease BIP = Bezafibrate Infarction Prevention CHD = coronary heart disease CI = confidence interval CV = cardiovascular CVD = cardiovascular disease DHA = docosahexaenoic acid DO-IT = Diet and Omega-3 Intervention Trial EPA = eicosapentaenoic acid FIELD = Fenofibrate Intervention and Event Lowering in Diabetes GISSI-HF = GISSI-Heart Failure HDL-C = high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol HPS2-THRIVE = Heart Protection Study 2-Treatment of HDL to Reduce the Incidence of Vascular Events HR = hazard ratio JELIS = Japan Eicosapentaenoic Acid Lipid Intervention Study LDL = low-density lipoprotein LDL-C = low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol MI = myocardial infarction OM3FAs = omega-3 fatty acids VITAL = Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Atherosclerosis / prevention & control*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Fenofibrate / therapeutic use
  • Fibric Acids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypertriglyceridemia / drug therapy*
  • Hypertriglyceridemia / metabolism
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Niacin / therapeutic use
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fibric Acids
  • Hypolipidemic Agents
  • Triglycerides
  • Niacin
  • Fenofibrate