When it comes to heart health, lipoproteins are commonly a topic of discussion. These crucial molecules transport fat-soluble substances through your bloodstream and play a vital role in your health. There are four primary types of lipoproteins, two of which are low density and very low density, or LDL and VLDL. When these two lipoproteins become elevated, you are at an increased your risk for heart disease.
You often hear lipoproteins referred to as "good" and "bad" types of cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, the "good" cholesterol, picks up cholesterol from your cells and gives it a ride back to your liver for elimination, which is beneficial. Conversely, LDL and VLDL, the "bad" cholesterol, transport cholesterol from your liver to all your body cells, and this can have a negative impact. When excess cholesterol is in your bloodstream, your arteries can harden or become clogged.
Lipoproteins contain a mixture of cholesterol, protein and a type of fat called triglyceride. Your liver produces VLDL from excess carbohydrate and protein and secretes it into your bloodstream. Your liver also makes LDL, but the major difference is the chemical composition. VLDL contains a much higher amount of triglycerides than LDL, making it the worse of the two. When you take in more calories than your body needs, they are converted to triglycerides.
A direct way to measure your VLDL levels remains unavailable, but you can receive an estimate based on your total triglyceride level. Your screening will include a measurement of your HDL, LDL, triglyceride and combined cholesterol levels. Some labs include your lipoprotein-a measurement, which is a substance similar to LDL. Although lipoprotein-a is poorly understood, a high level is a significant risk factor for developing fatty deposits in your arteries, according to the American Heart Association.
The National Cholesterol Education Program provides guidelines for cholesterol management. It considers LDL levels less than 100 milligrams per deciliter as optimal and a good goal for adults. Aim to keep your total cholesterol levels below 200 milligrams per deciliter. It is beneficial to have an HDL level equal or above 60 milligrams per deciliter. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, heavy drinking and lack of exercise contribute to an increased cholesterol level.
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.