Defining LDL and Cholesterol
LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein; LDL-C refers to the cholesterol contained within that lipoprotein.
Think of LDL as a boat:
Cholesterol is the cargo:
The cholesterol (cargo) can’t float in the blood; it needs to be carried around by the lipoprotein (the boat).
This video summarizes what cholesterol and the lipoproteins are.
Remember, lipoproteins are not cholesterol, they are cholesterol carrying molecules. There can be varying amounts of cargo on each boat:
As you’ll soon learn, it is beneficial to have lesser amounts of LDL-C. In other words, we want less cholesterol cargo on the LDL boats.
What Does LDL Do?
LDL carries cholesterol to your cells all over your body: from your brain to muscles to organs , . On the other hand, high density lipoprotein (HDL), takes cholesterol from the cells to the liver, to be recycled and removed from the body.
The video below depicts what LDL does:
Click here for a reminder of what HDL-C does.
LDL and its Associations with Increased Risk of Heart Disease
One of the reasons LDL-C is considered “bad” (whereas HDL is "good") is because the cholesterol on the LDL molecule is more susceptible to oxidation and inflammation. Oxidation and inflammation are the driving forces behind almost all chronic diseases , notably heart disease .
When this LDL-C molecule becomes oxidized, it will undergo changes which can clog an artery. Previously, doctors seemed to focus on LDL-C when discussing heart health, but now we know there are many factors that contribute to LDL having a role to play in heart disease.
As I discussed above, inflammation and oxidation are driving forces behind heart disease, not the LDL itself. So if your doctor says you have high ‘cholesterol’, you can see why it’s important to focus on minimizing oxidation and inflammation, through diet and supplementation.
In addition, LDL is a group of particles of various sizes; it’s not just one unique molecule. In the past, we would group all the various LDL molecules together to assess cardiovascular disease risk. Now we know we need to consider the particle size and density  as some LDL molecules carry more risk than others. Click here to learn more about LDL Particle Size and Density, and how it pertains to heart disease.
Cholesterol is crucial for health, and LDL is simply a carrier protein, taking cholesterol throughout the body. LDL and cholesterol are implicated in heart disease, but it's more complicated than simply looking at LDL alone.
Interested in learning more?
Read on in our series of articles on Heart Health!
About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera
Dr. Johann is a fully licensed Naturopathic Doctor. His approach emphasizes the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and improving one’s health naturally. Dr. Johann obtained a Doctor of Naturopathy at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). Education at CCNM is a vigorous four years, with a curriculum involving biomedical sciences, physical diagnosis, clinical nutrition, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, botanical (herbal) medicine, physical medicine, homeopathy and lifestyle management.
While Dr. Johann has a general practice, he focuses on fertility, hormonal imbalances, gut health, and autoimmune disease.
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