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The Difference Between VLDL and LDL

Overview

Key points

  1. VLDL and LDL both transport fats like cholesterol and triglycerides through your bloodstream.
  2. Both are associated with “bad,” or harmful, types of cholesterol.
  3. VLDL contains more triglycerides than LDL, while LDL carries more cholesterol.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) are two different types of lipoproteins that are found in your blood. Lipoproteins are particles made up of proteins and various types of fat. They carry cholesterol and triglycerides through your bloodstream. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s necessary for building cells. It’s created in your liver from fats in your diet. Triglycerides are another type of fat that’s used to store extra energy in your cells.

The main difference between VLDL and LDL is that they have different percentages of the cholesterol, protein, and triglycerides that make up each lipoprotein. LDL contains more cholesterol, while VLDL mostly carries triglycerides.

VLDL and LDL are both associated with “bad” cholesterol. While your body needs both cholesterol and triglycerides to function, having too much of them can cause them to build up in your arteries. This can increase your risk of heart disease or stroke.

Read more: The recommended cholesterol levels by age »

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VLDL

VLDL definition

VLDL is created in your liver to carry triglycerides throughout your body. It’s made up of the following components:

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

The triglycerides carried by VLDL are used by cells in the body for energy. Eating more fat than you can burn can lead to excessive amounts of triglycerides and high levels of VLDL in your blood. Extra triglycerides are stored in fat cells and released at a later time when needed for energy.

High levels of triglycerides are linked to the build-up of hard deposits in your arteries, called plaque. Although the exact relationship is unclear, having a high triglyceride level increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a condition called metabolic syndrome.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a VLDL level over 30 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dl) is considered high. Anything less is considered normal. Most people with a high VLDL level have cardiovascular disease.

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LDL

LDL definition

Some VLDL is cleared in the bloodstream. The rest is transformed into LDL by enzymes in the blood. LDL has less triglycerides and a higher percentage of cholesterol than VLDL. LDL is largely made up of the following components:

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

LDL carries cholesterol throughout your body. Too much cholesterol in your body leads to high LDL levels. High LDL levels are associated with the build-up of plaque in your arteries. These deposits can eventually lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when deposits of plaque have hardened and narrowed the artery. This increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, the following are the acceptable, borderline, and high LDL measurements for adults. LDL levels are expressed as milligrams of lipoproteins per deciliter of blood (mg/dL):

Good Less than 100 mg/dL
Borderline 130 to 159 mg/dL
High 160 mg/dL or higher
 

The best range for LDL cholesterol is under 100 mg/dL. Your doctor will likely suggest changes to your diet and exercise routine when your levels get into the 130 to 159 mg/dL range. If your LDL cholesterol level reaches 160 mg/dL or more, your doctor will likely recommend that you start taking statins. Statins are medications that lower your cholesterol levels.

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Testing

Testing VLDL and LDL

Most people will get their LDL level tested at their annual physical exam. It’s considered a routine test for monitoring your levels. LDL is usually tested as part of a cholesterol test.

There’s no specific test for VLDL cholesterol. VLDL is usually estimated based on your triglycerides level. Triglycerides are also usually tested in a cholesterol test. Many doctors don’t do the calculations to find your estimated VLDL level unless you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease or you ask for it specifically.

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:

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Lower VLDL and LDL

How to lower LDL and VLDL levels

The strategies for lowering your VLDL and LDL levels are the same: exercise regularly and eat healthy. Your doctor is the best place to start for recommendations on healthy weight loss.

Tips
  • Eat nuts, avocados, steel-cut oatmeal, and omega-3-rich fish like salmon and halibut.
  • Avoid saturated fats, found in foods like beef, butter, and cheese.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
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