How Does Stress Affect Cholesterol?
High cholesterol increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. So does stress. Some studies suggest that there may be a link between stress and cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in certain foods and is also produced by your body. The amount of cholesterol in foods is not as significant as the trans fatty acids and saturated fats in our diet. It is these fats that cause your body to produce more cholesterol.
There is “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Your ideal level is .
- LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL.
- HDL cholesterol: greater than 60 mg/dL.
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL.
When bad cholesterol is too high, it builds up in your arteries. This affects the way blood flows to your brain and heart, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
What is stress?
Stress is a broad term that is often vague. Things that cause stress are called stressors, and each person reacts to them differently. What one person finds stressful, another person may find exciting.
One definition of stress is when a person finds it difficult to cope with or manage a situation because they don’t have – or think they don’t have – the mental or physical resources to cope or manage the situation.
Stress occurs when a person feels stressed or out of control.
Stress occurs when there are changes in a person’s or their loved one’s life. Factors that may cause stress include illness, traumatic accidents, moving, changes in marital status, loss of a loved one, etc.
The person may feel
- sad or distressed
- in danger
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance with a waxy appearance. It is essential for every cell in the body and has several functions. One of them is to form the structure of cell walls.
There are two sources of cholesterol.
- The body produces it
Cholesterol is not carried freely in the blood. Instead, it circulates through the bloodstream as substances called lipoproteins. That’s why scientists use lipid levels to measure cholesterol.
Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol.
- LDL, or “bad” cholesterol
- HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
Risk Factors for High Cholesterol Levels
Risk factors for high cholesterol include the following.
- A family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or stroke
You may be at risk for high cholesterol because you have a family history of high cholesterol, or because you have a family history of heart problems or stroke. Lifestyle habits can also have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels. Obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, can put you at risk for high cholesterol. Diabetes can also damage the inside of your arteries, causing cholesterol to build up. Smoking can have the same effect.
If you are 20 years old or older and have no heart problems, the American Heart Association recommends that you have your cholesterol checked every four to six years. If you’ve had a heart attack, have a family history of heart problems, or have high cholesterol, ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol checked.
The link between stress and cholesterol
There is compelling evidence that your stress levels can indirectly lead to an increase in bad cholesterol. For example, one study found that stress was positively associated with reduced healthy eating habits, weight gain and reduced healthy eating, all known risk factors for high cholesterol. This is especially true for men, the study found.
Another study of more than 90,000 people found that people who reported higher levels of stress at work were more likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol. This may be because the body releases a hormone called cortisol in response to stress. High cortisol levels caused by chronic stress may be the mechanism that explains how stress can raise cholesterol. Adrenaline can also be released, and these hormones can trigger a “fight or flight” response to stress. This response can then trigger triglycerides, which raise “bad” cholesterol.
Regardless of the physical reasons why stress can affect cholesterol, many studies have shown a positive correlation between high stress and high cholesterol. If there are other factors that can contribute to high cholesterol, then stress may be one of them.
Treatment and Prevention
Since there is a correlation between stress and cholesterol, preventing stress can help prevent the high cholesterol it causes.
Long-term chronic stress is more harmful to health and cholesterol than short-term stress. Over time, reducing stress can help prevent cholesterol problems. While you can’t eliminate stress from your life, there are options to help you manage it.
Managing stress, whether short-term or long-term, can be difficult for many people. Coping with stress can be as simple as reducing certain responsibilities or getting more exercise. Treatment by an experienced psychologist can also provide new techniques to help patients manage their stress.
One of the best things you can do for stress and cholesterol is to exercise regularly. The American Heart Association recommends walking for about 30 minutes a day, but they also point out that you can get that much exercise by cleaning your house!
Of course, going to the gym is also recommended, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself to achieve Olympic fitness overnight. Start with simple goals, even short ones, and then increase your activity level over time.
Find out what type of exercise program suits your personality. If you’re more motivated to do the same exercise at a set time, stick to the program. If you get bored easily, challenge yourself with a new activity.
You can also make a significant impact on your cholesterol levels by eating a healthier diet.
Start by reducing the saturated and trans fats in your basket. Instead of red and processed meats for lunch, choose leaner proteins such as poultry and skinless fish. Replace full-fat dairy products with low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Eat more whole grains and fresh produce and avoid simple carbohydrates (sugary foods and white flour).
Avoid dieting and focus on simple, gradual changes. One study showed that dieting and drastically reducing caloric intake was actually associated with increased production of cortisol, which raises cholesterol.
Alternative medications and supplements
If reducing stress doesn’t sufficiently lower your high cholesterol, you can try other medications and remedies.
These medications and treatments include
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Whether you are using prescription medications or dietary supplements, be sure to consult your doctor before changing your treatment plan. Even with natural medications, small changes in your treatment plan may interfere with the medications or supplements you are taking.
There is a correlation between high stress and high cholesterol, so if you have high cholesterol or need to lower it, keeping stress levels low may help.
If stress is affecting your overall health, consult your doctor. He or she can recommend an exercise program, a healthy diet, and, if necessary, medication. He or she can also refer you to a therapist for stress management techniques, which can be very helpful.