What’s the Difference Between Very Low-Density Lipoproteins & Low-Density Lipoproteins?

Overview of VLDL & LDL

VLDL is an acronym for very-low-density lipoprotein. LDL, on the other hand, is an acronym for low-density lipoprotein. Both lipoproteins are present in your blood. The lipoproteins are made of proteins and fats. They convey triglycerides and cholesterol through the general circulation (bloodstream).

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance. It is used for cell building. Cholesterol is produced in the liver through a very complex pathway. Triglycerides are energy stores. Extra energy is stored in your cells via triglycerides.

A major distinguishing factor between VLDL and LDL is the difference in their protein, triglyceride and cholesterol constituents. VLDL has a higher number of triglycerides while LDL has more cholesterol instead. Very low-density lipoprotein and low-density lipoprotein are both bad cholesterols. The human body requires both triglycerides and cholesterol to function, but when both are in excess, they accumulate in the arteries, leading to a high risk for stroke and heart disease.

VLDL LDL
Photo Credit: HealthCentral

Defining VLDL

VLDL is produced in the liver. Its function is to transport triglycerides throughout your body. The following components are present in VLDL:

Major components of VLDL Percentage
cholesterol 10%
triglycerides 70%
proteins 10%
other fats 10%

Your body cells use the triglycerides transported by VLDL for energy. Eating a lot of sugars or carbs than you can burn leads to high amounts of triglycerides and VLDL levels in your blood. The excess triglycerides are stored in your fat cells and released when your body requires energy.

Excess triglycerides are linked to the accumulation of hard deposits in your arteries. The buildup of plaques increases a person’s risk of stroke and heart disease. Research shows that this is due to:

  • High level of inflammation
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in the endothelial lining of blood vessels
  • Low levels of “good cholesterol” (i.e. high-density lipoprotein).

Increased triglyceride levels are associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.

Defining LDL

Not all VLDL is cleared from the bloodstream. Some are converted into LDL by enzymes present in the blood. The number of triglycerides in LDL is lesser than in VLDL. But on the other hand, LDL has a higher percentage of cholesterol compared to VLDL. The components of LDL include:

Major components of LDL Percentage
cholesterol 26%
triglycerides 10%
proteins 25%
other fats 15%

LDL transports cholesterol throughout your body. Excess cholesterol leads to a high level of LDL in the body. High levels of LDL are associated with the accumulation of plaque in your arteries.

These plaques harden and eventually lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis increases your risk for a stroke or a heart disease.

Guidelines recently released by the American Heart Association focuses on the overall risk for heart disease development, instead of individual cholesterol result.

Your levels of HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol together with other factors, will determine the treatment that’s most suitable for your condition.

Consult your doctor about your cholesterol level and how you can reduce your risk for heart disease with medication, lifestyle modification, exercise, and diet, if necessary.

Tests for VLDL & LDL

In most cases, the LDL level is tested during a routine physical examination. An LDL is a part of a cholesterol test.

According to The American Heart Association, individuals over 20 years of age should do a cholesterol test at least once in 4 – 6 years. You may need to follow up with your cholesterol levels if you’re at risk for heart disease.

Test for VLDL cholesterol isn’t specific. Very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is estimated based on a person’s triglyceride level. A cholesterol test also doubles as a triglyceride test.

Most healthcare professionals will not calculate your VLDL level unless you request for it. Other reasons why they may calculate it include:

  • If you have early-onset heart disease
  • Some abnormal cholesterol conditions
  • Risk factors for cardiovascular disorders

Factors that constitute a risk for cardiovascular disease include:

  • Increased weight
  • Old age
  • High blood pressure or diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Living a sedentary life
  • Eating unhealthy foods (high fat and high sugar foods, and foods low in fiber, vegetables, and fruits).

How to Reduce LDL & VLDL Levels

Similar strategies are used for lowering LDL and VLDL levels: eating healthy foods and engaging in physical exercises.

Reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking also help. Your doctor is in the best position to make recommendations that will help you live healthily.

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