Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) are two different types of fatty substances found in your blood. Lipoproteins are a combination of proteins and various types of fats. They carry cholesterol and triglycerides through your bloodstream.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s necessary for building cells. In the body, it’s most commonly created in your liver. Triglycerides are another type of fat that’s used to store extra energy in your cells.

Though VLDL and LDL share the same building blocks, these two types of lipoproteins differ in the percentages of the cholesterol, protein, and triglycerides that make them up. VLDL contains more triglycerides, while LDL contains more cholesterol.

VLDL and LDL are both considered carriers, and types, of “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 for heart disease and stroke.

Find out your recommended cholesterol level.

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

Main components of VLDLPercentage
other fats10%

The triglycerides carried by VLDL are used by cells in the body for energy. Eating more carbohydrates, or sugars, than you burn can lead to excessive amounts of triglycerides in the body 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 buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries. These deposits are called plaques. Plaque buildup increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Experts believe this is due to:

  • increased inflammation
  • increased blood pressure
  • changes in the lining of blood vessels
  • low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol

High triglycerides are also associated with metabolic syndrome and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

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

Main components of LDLPercentage
cholesterol 26%
other fats15%

LDL carries cholesterol throughout your body. Too much cholesterol in your body leads to high LDL levels. High LDL levels are also associated with the buildup 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 for having a heart attack and stroke.

Recent guidelines from the American Heart Association now focus on the overall risk for developing heart disease, rather than individual cholesterol results.

Your levels of total cholesterol, LDL, and HDL, along with a variety of other factors, determine which treatment options are best for you.

Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol and how you can lower your risk for heart disease with diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication, if needed.

Most people will get their LDL level tested during a routine physical exam. LDL is usually tested as part of a lipid panel.

The American Heart Association recommends all individuals over the age of 20 get their cholesterol checked every four to six years. Cholesterol levels may need to be followed up more frequently if your risk for heart disease is high or to monitor any treatment.

There’s no specific test for VLDL cholesterol. VLDL is usually estimated based on your triglycerides level. Triglycerides are also usually tested during a cholesterol test.

Many doctors don’t do the calculations to find your estimated VLDL level unless you ask for it specifically or have:

  • other risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • certain abnormal cholesterol conditions
  • early onset heart disease

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:

  • increased age
  • increased weight
  • having diabetes or high blood pressure
  • having a family history of cardiovascular disease
  • smoking
  • lack of regular physical activity
  • unhealthy diet (high in animal fat and sugar and low in fruits, vegetables, and fiber)

The strategies for lowering your VLDL and LDL levels are the same: increase physical exercise and eat a healthy variety of foods.

Quitting smoking and decreasing alcohol consumption can be beneficial as well. Your doctor is the best place to start for recommendations on heart-healthy lifestyle changes tailored for you.