Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is one of five major types of lipoprotein responsible for transporting cholesterol in the blood. The different types of lipoprotein are all named according to how dense they are. LDL is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it deposits excess cholesterol on the walls of the arteries which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Usually, an LDL reading is taken as part of your lipid profile which includes your total cholesterol as well as the amount of cholesterol carried by both LDL and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
Generally having high cholesterol levels don’t cause any symptoms. So, checking your LDL level is essential to check your cholesterol, particularly because high levels can increase the risk of certain medical conditions.
You can test your LDL levels by purchasing a simple at-home finger prick test kit which is then analysed at an accredited lab. Forth offers a number of blood tests which include LDL such as a Cholesterol Check which can be purchased for just £39.00 or our best-selling Baseline Plus test which includes cholesterol and more than 15 other biomarkers essential to good health.
LDL is part of cholesterol’s special transport system. Low-density lipoproteins carry cholesterol from the liver to the different cells of the body.  LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood where it is transported to cells which need it for repair. However, excess cholesterol means it accumulates in arterial walls.
The lipoprotein is required to transport cholesterol because cholesterol is insoluble in water and so needs the proteins to flow through the watery part of the blood.
Cholesterol itself has three main functions in the body:
The liver is responsible for making cholesterol but we ingest it through our diet, too, in foods such as eggs, meat and dairy products. Once made in the liver or ingested, cholesterol travels around the body via the blood attached to lipoproteins. The lower the density of the lipoprotein, the more fat it contains.
Increased levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease or diabetes. When there is excess cholesterol in the body, it gets deposited on the artery walls which restricts the blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and brain.
High cholesterol also increases the risk of developing type II diabetes, where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin. Alternatively, it may be that the cells in the body are no longer able to react to the insulin it does produce and causes high blood glucose levels.
If you are worried about your cholesterol levels or just want to check where you fall on the range, you can test your LDL level with a simple at-home blood test.
There are a variety of reasons why LDL cholesterol levels rise, including:
It is unlikely that having high cholesterol will display any symptoms which is why it’s sometimes referred to as the silent killer. Instead, it is good to monitor your cholesterol levels with cholesterol tests.
The best way to ensure your cholesterol levels are under control is to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Diet can help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to have healthy effects like lowering blood pressure and improved lipid profiles.
You can make your diet more Mediterranean-like by:
Other ways to reduce your LDL levels include:
Exercise is also important for controlling cholesterol levels. Research has shown regular exercise increases LDL cholesterol which offsets increases in LDL cholesterol. However, intense exercise helps to reduce LDL cholesterol. In individuals with elevated cholesterol levels, it is recommended that they take part in at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, five times per week. This should consist of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at approximately 70-80% of your heart rate reserve, progressing to 85% of your maximal heart rate. You should also incorporate some moderate to high-intensity resistance training.
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 Lab Tests Online UK. (2015). LDL Cholesterol Test. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org.uk/tests/ldl-cholesterol-test
 British Heart Foundation. (2019). Reducing Your Blood Cholesterol.
 Heart UK. (2018). Cholesterol and Lipoproteins. Available at: https://heartuk.org.uk/images/uploads/healthylivingpdfs/HUKcfs_A_Cholesterol_and_Lipoproteins.pdf
 Pirahanchi, Y and Huecker, M, R. (2019). Biochemistry, LDL Cholesterol. In: StatPearls [Internet].
 Diabetes UK. (2019). What is Type 2 Diabetes? Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/what-is-type-2-diabetes
 Heart UK. (2019). What is High Cholesterol? Available at: https://www.heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol/what-is-high-cholesterol
 Estruch, R et al. (2006). Effects of a Mediterranean-Style Diet on Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Annals of Internal Medicine: 145, pp 1-11.
 NHS. (2017). What is a Mediterranean Diet? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-is-a-mediterranean-diet/
 Mann, S., Beedie, C and Jimenez, A. (2014). Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Med: 44, pp 211-221.