Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is a type of lipoprotein that plays an important role in cholesterol metabolism.

If you know your cholesterol levels, you might be familiar with high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (“good” cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (“bad” cholesterol). But what about VLDL?

VLDL is another important character in the cholesterol story.

Maintaining healthy VLDL levels is vital for maintaining a healthy heart and overall well-being.

VLDL is one of the three main types of lipoproteins, along with HDL and LDL.

Lipoproteins are a combination of proteins and lipids (fats) that transport triglycerides, a form of fat, in the bloodstream.

VLDL primarily involves lipids, which account for about 90% of its structure. Lipids include substances like triglycerides and cholesterol. The remaining 10% of VLDL involves proteins.

The term “very low-density” refers to the density of VLDL particles in the bloodstream. Density is a measure of how tightly packed the particles are.

VLDL’s density ranges from 0.96–1.006 grams per milliliter (g/ml). Experts consider this density very low (so, further apart) compared with other lipoproteins like LDL (1.019–1.063 g/ml) and HDL (1.063–1.21 g/ml).

What is the function of very low-density lipoprotein?

The main function of VLDL is to transport triglycerides from the liver to different body parts where cells need them. VLDL acts like a carrier that delivers these fats to cells to provide energy or store them for future use.

Healthy VLDL cholesterol levels typically range between 2 and 30 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). But the usual range for VLDL levels can vary slightly, depending on the laboratory and measurement method used.

It’s a good idea for experts to interpret VLDL levels with other lipid measures, such as total cholesterol, triglycerides, and HDL cholesterol, to have a well-rounded lipid profile assessment.

Experts may often consider VLDL less desirable because it carries triglycerides to the cells. When VLDL breaks down triglycerides, it releases LDL cholesterol particles, often called “bad” cholesterol.

LDL carries cholesterol to different body tissues, and excess LDL can accumulate in the arteries, leading to plaque formation and increasing the risk of heart disease.

Therefore, experts may consider it more beneficial to have lower levels of VLDL to maintain a healthy cholesterol profile.

What happens if your VLDL levels are low?

If your VLDL levels are low, it generally indicates a positive health outcome. Lower levels of VLDL link with lower levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

What happens if your VLDL levels are high?

When VLDL levels are high, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol can build up in the arteries, forming plaque. These plaques can narrow and harden the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Several factors can contribute to high VLDL levels in the bloodstream. These include:

  • High sugar intake: Diets rich in refined sugars and carbohydrates can stimulate the liver to produce more VLDL particles, leading to elevated VLDL levels.
  • Low physical activity: Low physical activity and exercise can contribute to higher VLDL levels. Regular exercise can help improve lipid metabolism and can lower VLDL production.
  • Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance, often associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome, can lead to the liver’s high VLDL production.
  • Genetic factors: Certain genetic conditions, such as familial combined hyperlipidemia, can predispose individuals to high VLDL levels.
  • Certain medical conditions: Certain medical conditions like type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease can link with higher VLDL levels.
  • Alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol intake can raise VLDL levels by affecting liver function and triglyceride metabolism.

It’s important to note that high VLDL levels often coincide with high triglyceride levels and low protective HDL cholesterol. This combination, known as atherogenic dyslipidemia, can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Reducing VLDL cholesterol levels often involves adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle and making certain dietary and lifestyle changes.

Here are some strategies that can help:

  • Eat a balanced diet: Focus on limiting refined sugar and carbs and consuming many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Increase dietary fiber: Foods high in soluble fiber, such as oats, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, can help lower VLDL cholesterol levels.
  • Exercise regularly: Engage in regular physical activity, such as aerobic exercises, to improve your lipid profile and overall cardiovascular health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol intake can increase VLDL cholesterol levels. If you drink alcohol, try to do so in moderation.
  • Quit or reduce smoking: Smoking can negatively affect cholesterol levels and overall heart health. If you smoke, quitting or reducing smoking can positively affect your lipid profile.

VLDL is an essential component of your body’s cholesterol transport system. It’s a lipoprotein the liver produces that carries triglycerides to various tissues.

VLDL contributes to LDL formation, often called “bad” cholesterol, through metabolic changes.

By adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular physical activity, you can strive to keep your VLDL within a healthy range and promote overall heart health.