16 Jan 2017

Is there a link between stress and cholesterol?

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Trying to do everything you can to lower your cholesterol levels? Perhaps your reaction to stress is part of the picture.

Stress is an everyday part of life, and research suggests that it may also –influence cholesterol levels.

The good news is, experiencing stress in itself isn’t nearly as important as how you deal with it. The bad news is, if you’re one of those people that don’t respond well to stress – we’re talking anger or hostility – then you’ll find periods of high stress may well correspond with higher LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

One study found some people show large increases in LDL cholesterol even in the short term, while others show very little response, when dealing with stressful events. The researchers noted the cholesterol responses likely reflect the way people react to challenges in everyday life as well - those who showed bigger spikes in LDL and triglycerides being the same folk that respond strongly to stressful events.

Interestingly, at the follow up three years later, the individuals that had stronger responses to stress had substantially greater rises in cholesterol than those with ‘small’ stress responses.

What’s going on?

It’s suggested acute stress responses may raise fasting serum lipids because stress encourages the body to produce more energy in the form of metabolic fuels - fatty acids and glucose. These substances require the liver to produce and secrete more LDL, which is the principal carrier of cholesterol in the blood. 

Another key reason may be that stress interferes with lipid clearance, and a third possibility could be that stress increases production of a number of inflammatory processes that also increase lipid production.

INFOGRAPHIC: The science of stress

The kick on effect

Chronic, long term, stress brings its own issues to the cholesterol raising table. The lifestyle that often accompanies chronic stress – think lack of exercise and grabbing quick, unhealthy meals that comes with a stress filled life are all contributors to unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Stress also stimulates the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, part of a ‘fight or flight’ mechanism the body adopts to protect itself. These hormones stimulate the release of triglycerides and free fatty acids, which over time can boost LDL cholesterol.

Get chilled

How we respond to stress is often pretty inbuilt – especially by the time we are adults. However, if you do have cholesterol issues, and you don’t deal well with stress, it may be time to address it.

There are things we can all do to lower stress in our life, but considering life sometimes throws us curveballs, learning how to better cope with stress is important too.
Your healthcare professional is a great place to start if you’re not sure what steps to take to manage your stress.

You can also ask one of our naturopaths for advice here