Everyone goes through periods of stress, especially these days. Stress is a natural part of life, brought on by problems great and small. It can come from a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one, everyday worries about work, finances, and friends, from fear of illness, anxiety or depression, or even just from having an irregular sleep schedule. Your body is hardwired to respond to stress with a series of protective chemical reactions. But suffering from constant stress can be bad for your health. One of the dangers is the correlation between chronic stress and high cholesterol.
Can Stress Cause High Cholesterol?
Stress and high cholesterol are proven to be intrinsically linked, although all of the ways in which the two interact are still being explored. High or prolonged stress levels are thought to raise cholesterol in multiple ways - through chemical reactions and prompting unhealthy changes in activity.
How Does Stress Cause High Cholesterol?
Chemically, experiencing stress induces a “fight or flight” reaction in the body. This evolutionary reaction is meant to give your body the tools it needs to respond to a potentially dangerous situation. Experiencing stress, trauma, or anxiety prompts the body to produce hormones like cortisol.
Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands right above the kidneys, has quite a few essential functions in your body. It manages how your body processes carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Cortisol also lowers inflammation, regulates blood pressure, influences your immune system, and distributes glucose, or blood sugar, throughout the body. An increase in blood sugar levels stimulates the production of triglycerides (fats in the blood). More triglycerides mean higher cholesterol. So, can stress cause high triglycerides and, by turn, more elevated cholesterol? Absolutely yes, because of the power of the cortisol response.
The other way that stress can encourage higher cholesterol is by causing changes in activity. Stress can invite unhealthy coping mechanisms, like binge-eating comfort foods or staying indoors for long periods. Recurring, stress-induced changes in behavior like these put you at risk for higher cholesterol.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a combination of fats (or lipids) and proteins naturally produced by your body. It’s naturally occurring in every cell that we have and is necessary to process and produce hormones and Vitamin D, as well as to digest food.
Health Risks of High Cholesterol
Because cholesterol is naturally occurring, having some is not bad for you. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is commonly known as good cholesterol. It helps move other cholesterols through the body back into the liver, where they can be removed from the body. On the other hand, LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is what is known as called bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL can build up plaque on the walls of your arteries. Plaque obstructs blood flow in the arteries, increasing your risk for many dangerous conditions, including strokes, heart attacks, heart disease, and blood clots. According to a Harvard Medical School study, an increase of barely 2 mg/dl of LDL in the body led to a 3% increased risk of a heart attack.
Does stress increase LDL or HDL? Unfortunately, LDL, or bad cholesterol, is linked to heightened glucose levels in the body. Furthermore, Dr. Lisa Matzer reports that while everyone experiences stress, those who cope with it in unhealthy ways like isolation, hostility, and self-blame experience higher levels of LDL and triglycerides, while also experiencing lower levels of helpful HDL.
Prevention and Treatment
Having high cholesterol puts you at risk for many health complications. Luckily, there are many ways to manage high cholesterol levels, as well as monitor healthy ones.
The American Heart Association recommends getting at least two and a half hours of physical activity every week. Aerobic activities, like going on a brisk walk, dancing, gardening, playing tennis, or riding a bike, get your heart rate up and keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
Healthy Eating - Switching out certain foods for leaner alternatives can make a big difference to your cholesterol levels. Replacing red meats with chicken or fish, and changing from full-fat dairy products to low or non-fat versions are examples of non-restrictive ways to eat heart-healthier. Adding fiber-rich foods, like oats, beans, eggplant, and okra, into your diet can also help. Some foods, like nuts, are especially good for the heart. A Harvard study found that eating just two ounces of walnuts a day can lower LDL by about 5%.
Supplements like Revive’s Bergamot are an easy way to promote healthy cholesterol and maintain circulatory wellness. Bergamot is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and the supplement’s proprietary blend is formulated to reduce fatty liver deposits that build up to unhealthy cholesterol.
Smoking not only puts you at an increased risk for high blood pressure and diabetes, but it also lowers your healthy HDL cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of heart disease.
Managing Stress in Healthy Ways
Even if you can’t find a way to reduce chronic stress, finding healthy coping mechanisms can help keep cortisol production and cholesterol levels under control. Some examples are meditating, getting a good night’s sleep, and doing activities that make you happy. Some simple things, like petting a dog, can increase oxytocin production, which fights stress and lowers blood pressure. Professional counseling can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms for chronic stress.
Stress is a part of life, just as cholesterol is a part of the body. In normal amounts, neither is harmful to your health. However, when stress goes unchecked, it can raise cholesterol levels and put your health at risk. Taking simple steps like eating low-fat foods, exercising, quitting smoking, and adding supplements to your diet can all help reduce bad cholesterol and build healthy cholesterol. Additionally, minimizing chronic stress and learning useful coping mechanisms can help lower your cortisol and your cholesterol levels. Reducing stress can reduce your cholesterol levels, helping you build a healthy lifestyle inside and out.