Is There a Link Between Stress and Cholesterol?

Stress plays an important role in the body, giving either positive or negative effects. However, through unhealthy habits, someone can have increased cholesterol levels but there may be a direct link.

Some physiological reactions (such as hormone levels and blood component changes) occur when a person is stressed. Therefore, both physiological reactions can elevate your cholesterol levels. However, experts do not know the exact cause of why stress increases cholesterol but there are some theories. In this article, we will discuss why it may happen and how to lessen stress that provokes increased cholesterol levels.

Stress

This is a body reaction to a situation and it occurs differently in people. For example, some people may find certain things stressful while others see them as exciting. Situations that usually provoke stress in someone are called stressors.

When a person finds it difficult to overcome a situation because they think do not have the mental or physical resources to do so, is one definition of stress. Check below some stress factors:

  • Health conditions
  • Traumatic incidents
  • Moving house
  • Loss of a loved person and others

When the stress happens people usually feel anxious, worried, depressed, aggressive, distressed, and vulnerable.

Cholesterol

This is a fat-like substance that is vital for each cell in the body. Cholesterol has different functions and one of them is to make up the cell walls. The main sources of cholesterol are produced by the body and taken from foods.

Cholesterol cannot travel through blood freely and it travels through lipoproteins. There are two types of cholesterol including LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol).

To check your cholesterol levels every 5 years is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, you should keep your overall cholesterol level low, especially “bad” LDL cholesterol. Check below the normal cholesterol levels:

Total cholesterol should be under 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter)

  • LDL under 100 mg/dL
  • HDL at least 60 mg/dL

How the Body Reacts to Stress?

When an individual faces stress the muscles, heart, and other organs automatically prepare for a high energy. However, whether you decide to run away or face the threat, the body will react in certain ways. Therefore, the body releases the following hormones Epinephrine (Adrenaline), Norepinephrine, and Cortisol.

Adrenaline makes the heart work harder which leads to increased heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. For a release of fatty acids to the muscles and blood that are used as energy is responsible Cortisol. Mostly, these hormones stay at high levels until the stressful situation is gone. As a result, these factors can elevate your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol and Stress

As per studies, approximately 92,000 people found a link between stress and unhealthy cholesterol levels. However, another 2017 study found that psychological stress causes increased triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and a decrease in HDL (“good” cholesterol).

Moreover, experts have suggested some ways in which stress can cause high cholesterol levels.

Hemoconcentration

One possible reason is the loss of fluid from the blood that occurs when someone is stressed. Thus, the cholesterol in the blood may become more concentrated but it usually is increased for short periods.

Cortisol

Those who experience stress for long periods of time may experience increased cholesterol levels in the body. Experts think it is due to high Cortisol levels. Moreover, increased Cortisol levels can increase appetite, the risk of obesity, and fat around certain parts of the body.

In some cases, people begin ear high-carbohydrate foods which leads to weight gain and obesity. However, increased cholesterol levels usually happen with excessive body weight.

Fatty Acids

In case a person does not use free fatty acids for energy during stress, they also could elevate cholesterol levels.

Indirect Effects of Stress on Cholesterol

Healthcare providers understand the indirect stress effects on cholesterol levels. For example, when an individual is stressed, he/she can engage in some behaviors that decrease or increase cholesterol levels. Examples include:

  • Smoking and Alcohol – Certain people when experiencing stress can increase their alcohol intake as well as smoke more than usual.
  • Exercise – It is known that physical exercises directly impact cholesterol levels. Thus, stress decreases the time spent on physical activities, which leads to increased levels of cholesterol.
  • Dietary Changes

How Does Stress Affect the Heart?

While stress can be positive (for example help you to avoid an accident), it can cause certain health problems. When people with coronary heart disease (CHD) experience mental stress, it may lead to ischemic heart disease (a health condition in which the heart does not get enough blood). As per studies, if the heart does not receive enough blood, it increases the risk of myocardial infarctions.

Additionally, research showed that mental stress-related ischemia was diagnosed more than exercise-related ischemia. However, more research is needed.

How to Prevent Stress-related High Cholesterol?

Although people react differently to the same stressors, there are some tips that can help to lessen the stress. Check below some options to manage stress:

  • Adopt a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Regular exercise
  • Get a healthy work-life balance
  • Do activities that focus on meditation and relaxation (such as yoga)
  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Get enough sleep
  • It is important to make time for enjoy (such as walk in the countryside)

However, those who are concerned about their stress or cholesterol levels should visit a doctor. Otherwise, it may lead to some serious health problems. Consult with your doctor for more details.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does physical exercise reduce cholesterol levels?

It is advised to aim for at least 30 minutes daily for physical exercises because it can improve your HDL (“good” cholesterol).

Is 250 mg/dL of total cholesterol high?

Yes, healthcare professionals consider 250 mg/dL of cholesterol to be high and if not treated, you may experience some complications including stroke and heart attack.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol levels?

  • Numbness
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain or angina
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Shortness of breath

If you experience any of the previous symptoms, do not hesitate to see a doctor. In case you have additional questions, ask your healthcare professional.

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