[LDL Explained] What is LDL and why knowing about it is important

heart disease
  • LDL is bad cholesterol. Aim for a low number.
  • Most of the cholesterol in your body is produced by your liver.
  • Excess LDL clogs arteries leading to increased risk of heart disease.
    The amount of cholesterol you have depends on many factors, including genetics, diet, age, activity, and other elements.
  • Managing cholesterol levels may include dietary changes, lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination.

What is LDL cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or 'bad cholesterol as it is probably more commonly referred to, tends to be the main area of focus when talking about cholesterol.

LDL stands for low-density lipoproteins. It is sometimes called the "bad" cholesterol because a high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.

TIP: You can remember the difference between HDL and LDL by thinking about the “H” in HDL. HDL is good cholesterol so just think of the “H” as meaning happy.

How is it made?

Your liver, other organs, and other cells in your body produce about 80 percent of the cholesterol in your blood.

The other 20 percent of the cholesterol in your body is affected by the foods you eat. Foods high in trans and saturated fats can contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels.

As you take in more of these fats, your liver compensates by reducing its own production of cholesterol and removing excess cholesterol. However, not everyone makes and removes cholesterol with the same efficiency.

What does it do?

It is the main protein that delivers cholesterol to where it is needed around the body. At the right level, its role is essential for healthy cell growth. However, when there is excess LDL it can cause clogging of the arteries - hence its bad reputation.

Cholesterol isn’t entirely bad for you. In fact, your body uses it to make a few essential hormones, including:

sex hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone in women, and testosterone in men, help the sex organs develop and are involved in reproduction

cortisol, which helps your body respond to stress

aldosterone, which balances the number of minerals in your body

vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium to strengthen your bones

How to calculate your LDL?

Here is another nifty remembering tool!

When looking to calculate your LDL level, think L = Low.

You want to have low LDL levels as this means there's less chance of your arteries being blocked.

Ideally LDL levels should be less than 3mmol/L (millimole per liter) for healthy adults and less than 2mmol/L in those who are at higher risk.

Here is what tracking it looks like. You can immediately see the power in knowing how your cholesterol levels are over time.

ldl cholesterol

And remember, for LDL, the lower the number the better.

How to lower your LDL?

Often changes in diet, good levels of physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight is enough to keep your LDL levels within healthy limits.

Many also believe that limiting saturated fats in your diet plays a role in reducing LDL levels. However recent studies have called this traditional thinking into question.

Your doctor will help you set up a plan of lifestyle changes and/or medication that can lower your cholesterol levels and your overall odds of a heart problem.

Your plan might include:

A healthy diet. Some diets, such as The Mediterranean Diet, have shown to be very effective for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

Ensuring you are eating foods such as; oily fish, nuts, and vegetables along with having enough fiber in your diet will maintain your general cholesterol levels.

Regular exercise. The kind that gets your heart pumping is best.

Weight loss. Losing even 5 to 10 pounds can improve your cholesterol levels.

Quitting tobacco. If you have a hard time giving up smoking, your doctor can help you find the program that’s best for you.

Medication. Some drugs, like statins, help keep your body from making cholesterol. Another, ezetimibe (Zetia), lowers the amount of cholesterol your body gets from the food you eat. If you can’t take statins or have a severe form of high cholesterol, you might get shots of PCSK9 inhibitors. These meds help your liver remove more LDL from your blood.

How to easily and affordably track your cholesterol from home

You can track your cholesterol using any one of the following affordable and accurate Lab Me at-home health tests:

Crucial At-Home Health Test: An excellent look into how your heart and liver are doing on the inside.

Baseline At-Home Health Test: Same as the crucial with inflammation biomarkers added in for extra information regarding the heart.

Executive At-Home Health Test: The most comprehensive general at-home health test on the market. When you do an executive at-home health test from Lab Me you also get a prediction on how likely you are to have heart disease in the next 10 years.

LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol. It carries cholesterol to your arteries, where it may collect in the vessel walls and contribute to plaque formation, known as atherosclerosis. This can lead to decreased blood flow to the heart muscle (coronary artery disease), leg muscles (peripheral artery disease), or abrupt closure of an artery in the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Over a third of the US population has high LDL cholesterol.

Diagnosis is made via blood testing, so if you don’t check, you won’t know.

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The Three Major Types of Cholesterol