Monday, October 1, 2012

The anatomy of a VAP test report

The vertical auto profile (VAP) test is an enhanced lipid profile test. It has been proposed, chiefly by the company Atherotech (), as a more complete test that relies on direct measurement of previously calculated lipid measures. The VAP test is particularly known for providing direct measurements of LDL cholesterol, instead of calculating them through equations ().

At the time of this writing, a typical VAP test report would provide direct measures of the cholesterol content of LDL, Lp(a), IDL, HDL, and VLDL particles. It would also provide additional measures referred to as secondary risk factors, notably particle density patterns and apolipoprotein concentrations. Finally, it would provide a customized risk summary and some basic recommendations for treatment. Below is the top part of a typical VAP test report (from Atherotech), showing measures of the cholesterol content of various particles. LDL cholesterol is combined for four particle subtypes, the small-dense subtypes 4 and 3, and the large-buoyant subtypes 2 and 1. A breakdown by LDL particle subtype is provided later in the VAP report.

In the table above, HDL cholesterol is categorized in two subtypes, the small-dense subtype 2, and the large-buoyant subtype 3. Interestingly, most of the HDL cholesterol in the table is supposedly of the least protective subtype, which seems to be a common finding in the general population. VLDL cholesterol is categorized in a similar way. IDL stands for intermediate-density lipoprotein; this is essentially a VLDL particle that has given off some of its content, particularly its triglyceride (or fat) cargo, but still remains in circulation.

Lp(a) is a special subtype of the LDL particle that is purported to be associated with markedly atherogenic factors. Mainstream medicine generally considers Lp(a) particles themselves to be atherogenic, which is highly debatable. Among other things, cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk and Lp(a) concentration follow a J-curve pattern, and Lp(a)’s range of variation in humans is very large. A blog post by Peter (Hyperlipid) has a figure right at the top that illustrates the former J-curve assertion (). The latter fact, related to range of variation, generally leads to a rather wide normal distribution of Lp(a) concentrations in most populations; meaning that a large number of individuals tend to fall outside Lp(a)’s optimal range and still have a low risk of developing CVD.

Below is the middle part of a typical VAP report, showing secondary risk factors, such as particle density patterns and apolipoprotein concentrations. LDL particle pattern A is considered to be the most protective, supposedly because large-buoyant LDL particles are less likely to penetrate the endothelial gaps, which are about 25 nm in diameter. Apolipoproteins are proteins that bind to fats for their transport in lipoproteins, to be used by various tissues for energy; free fatty acids also need to bind to proteins, notably albumin, to be transported to tissues for use as energy. Redundant particles and processes are everywhere in the human body!

Below is the bottom part of a typical VAP report, providing a risk summary and some basic recommendations. One of the recommendations is “to lower” the LDL target from 130mg/dL to 100mg/dL due to the presence of the checked emerging risk factors on the right, under “Considerations”. What that usually means in practice is a recommendation to take drugs, especially statins, to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. A recent post here and the discussion under it suggest that this would be a highly questionable recommendation in the vast majority of cases ().

What do I think about VAP tests? I think that they are useful in that they provide a lot more information about one’s lipids than standard lipid profiles, and more information is better than less. On the other hand, I think that people should be very careful about what they do with that information. There are even more direct tests that I would recommend before a decision to take drugs is made (, ), if that decision is ever made at all.