Why Should Your VLDL Cholesterol Levels Concern You?
VLDL is a type of cholesterol that hasn’t gotten as much publicity lately as LDL (“bad cholesterol”) or HDL (“good cholesterol”). To understand why knowing – and controlling – your VLDL levels is important for heart health, it helps to have a basic understanding of cholesterol and the role it plays in your circulatory system.
There are different types of cholesterol and fats circulating in your bloodstream. Fats are called “lipids” by medical professionals. Cholesterol is called “lipoprotein.” Low density lipoprotein or LDL has become known as “bad” cholesterol. High density lipoprotein or HDL is often called “good” cholesterol.
Triglycerides are the kind of fat that comes from food we eat. If you have a high level of triglycerides in your bloodstream, you have a higher risk for a heart attack or stroke than someone who has lower levels.
The initials VLDL stand for “very-low-density lipoprotein,” and it’s the kind that contains the highest amount of triglycerides. VLDL particles have a diameter of 30-80 nm, which is relatively large, meaning it can carry a lot of triglycerides. VLDL is created in your liver after you eat a high-carbohydrate meal. Your liver changes these carbohydrates into triglycerides. The triglycerides are then changed to LDL or bad cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Fats carried by VLDL and LDL can attach to the walls of blood vessels. When this occurs, the passageways through the blood vessels have less room to transport blood, or may even become obstructed. Therefore, VLDL raises the risk of heart attack or stroke.
You should have cholesterol tests regularly to measure all these important components: LDL, HDL, triglycerides and VLDL. A VLDL cholesterol level between 5 and 40 milligrams per deciliter is considered to be normal.
Certain individuals fall into the high risk category for VLDL. These especially include obese persons and anyone with diabetes or high blood pressure. Some studies have shown that women in menopause tend to have high VLDL. Certain medical problems cause high VLDL levels too, notably kidney transplants and pancreas disorders. Finally, anyone who has a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease should pay special attention to VLDL test results.
But everyone – even those who are not in these high risk groups – should do their best to keep their VLDL numbers in a normal range. You can do so by exercising at least three times a week for 20-30 minutes. It’s also important to maintain a healthy diet that includes a lot of low-fat, low cholesterol foods. Finally, cut back on smoking and alcohol consumption. Better yet, stop smoking and drinking all together.
When patients get their cholesterol results from their doctor, they often look at total cholesterol and their LDL and HDL numbers. There’s no doubt these are important. But VLDL often gets overlooked. It shouldn’t. Knowing your VLDL numbers and working to keep VLDL levels low are an important part of a cholesterol-healthy lifestyle.