The Relationship Between Stress And Cholesterol Levels
According to many leading cardiologists, of all the factors that contribute to high cholesterol, one is often overlooked in patient counseling: stress. Cholesterol from LDL deposits eventually builds up in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to reduced blood flow.
Four years ago, a patient named Christopher Edgington began taking medication while trying to change his diet, but his cholesterol continued to rise. His doctor suggested a new strategy.” He said I had to stop doing some of the things I was doing and [let go of] some of the stress in my life,” recalls Edgington, who works as a professor at the University of Northern Iowa. He listened. Today, the 69-year-old’s “bad cholesterol” and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels have dropped from 121 milligrams per deciliter in 2012 to 62 milligrams per deciliter.
According to many leading cardiologists, of all the factors that contribute to high cholesterol, one factor is often overlooked in patient counseling: stress. However, they say chronic stress from hard work, strained relationships or other anxiety-producing situations can play a role – along with a poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking – in the concentration of fat or lipids in the blood. Cholesterol from LDL deposits can eventually build up in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to reduced blood flow.
Medical advice for reducing stress
- Practice positive thinking: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
- Exercise: Staying in shape can reduce the production of stress hormones.
- Eat healtheir: A well-functioning body is more resistant to stress.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Identify tense body parts and imagine them melting away.
- Make time for yourself: Instead of being overwhelmed by a busy schedule, find ways to let go of your obligations.
- Reduce stress at home: Redefine the word “clean” so that everything doesn’t have to sparkle.
- Reduce stress at work: Tackle the most unpleasant tasks of the day as early as possible.
“Stress raises cholesterol,” says Stephen Kopecky, a preventive cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who treats Edginton.
Understanding the effects of stress on cholesterol has become more important. Nearly 28 percent of U.S. adults age 20 and older have high total cholesterol (240 mg/dL or more) or are taking medications to lower it. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults age 20 and older have high total cholesterol or are on cholesterol-lowering therapy.
The bigger concern is not the immediate stress episode, but long-term stress, which can lead to increased cholesterol in many ways. People may stop exercising or increase their intake of unhealthy foods. Stress also stimulates the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which are part of the body’s protective mechanisms. These hormones promote the release of triglycerides and free fatty acids, which can increase LDL cholesterol over time.
To send a clear message, Kopecky told his patients about a classic study in which 18 accountants had increased cholesterol as the April 15 U.S. tax filing deadline approached. Total cholesterol levels for these professionals rose from 206 mg/d in January to 232 on April 15 and fell to 215 in June.
According to the authors of the article, the accountants’ diet and exercise levels remained the same during the study period, suggesting that the changes were a product of stress. The concern was not with immediate stress, but with chronic stress, which can lead to elevated cholesterol levels.
Subsequent studies showed similar effects. more than 100 airline pilots experienced a 5 percent increase in their total and LDL cholesterol levels when they were under high levels of stress. The researchers tested the pilots before and after what many consider one of the most stressful aspects of their profession: the recertification exam. Pilots’ cholesterol levels also increased after they were subjected to stressful laboratory situations, such as being asked to give a speech with little preparation time.
According to experts, it is unclear to what extent stress causes an increase in cholesterol. This effect is more difficult to assess than changes in diet and exercise. Questions about the role of stress have arisen amid recent confusion about the extent to which diet contributes to high cholesterol. Studies have led many consumers to conclude that eggs, which contain cholesterol and saturated fat, do not contribute to coronary heart disease, contradicting conventional advice.
Research on the role of stress in heart disease is inconsistent. Some doctors say this is due in part to the introduction of cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins, in the late 1980s, which reduced this concern and became an immediate concern.