The Brief Essential Guide to VLDL Cholesterol

Everybody knows about HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, but what is VLDL cholesterol. The simple answer is that HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, carries small particles, LDL, or low-density cholesterol, carries larger particles, and VLDL, or very low-density cholesterol, transports the largest cholesterol particles of all.

Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance that’s essential to every cell in the body as a component of the cell membrane that keeps it from being dissolved in the bloodstream. Cholesterol is also the basic building block of most hormones; the gonads and the adrenal glands can make their own supply in substantial amounts, as can the liver. Cholesterol is also converted back into triglycerides as used as a cellular fuel.

Because cholesterol is a fat, it can’t travel through the bloodstream unless it is covered by protein. Different proteins of different densities transport cholesterol particles as more and more of the cholesterol is taken by the cells that need it to build cell membranes and to make hormones. VLDL becomes LDL, and LDL becomes HDL. The more you exercise and the fewer calories you eat, the faster the process creates HDL. In the liver, HDL is combined with newly created cholesterol and triglycerides to make VLDL all over again.

The kind of cholesterol that clogs arteries is a particular size of LDL that is just right for being “swallowed” by the white blood cells that also “swallow” bacteria. These white blood cells, known as macrophages, are what really clog arteries. They get stuck in the lining of a blood vessel feeding on cholesterol, and die. Other macrophages come along to try to remove them and also get stuck, and the whole mass of white blood cells and cholesterol is what creates an arterial plaque.

VLDL does not cause plaques, and neither does HDL. Since VLDL cholesterol levels don’t affect heart disease, recommended cholesterol levels don’t include targets for VLDL. Most lab tests don’t measure VLDL levels directly, but estimate them as 1/5 of triglycerides.