"How Stress Affects Your Cholesterol Level:
Everything You Wanted to Know"
by Karen Reed
"You’ve heard all about how high cholesterol levels are causing ill health. More importantly, you’ve heard about how bad cholesterol is causing ill health. It affects your arteries and blood flow, putting your heart under more pressure to perform properly. Those with high cholesterol levels are more at risk of stroke, heart attacks, and heart disease.
Cholesterol has long been linked to the food we eat. There are certain foods that we’re recommended to stay away from and others that we should get more off to promote good cholesterol levels and help protect the arteries. Did you know that it’s not just food that affects the cholesterol levels? Stress has been linked to high cholesterol. In fact, some studies now show that stress is worse than the food we eat for cholesterol levels and ill health.
The problem is that stress is a silent killer. We don’t realize that our cortisol levels are up and causing these problems until it’s too late in some cases. It’s important to reduce our stress levels to keep our cholesterol levels down. Here’s a look at just how stress causes high cholesterol and what you can do about it.
What Exactly Is Cholesterol? Before you start looking at stress and how it affects to high cholesterol levels, you need to know more about it. What exactly is it and what does it do?
There are two types of cholesterol: good and bad. The bad cholesterol is known as LDL cholesterol, and you shouldn’t have any more than 100mg/dL of this type in your body. Good cholesterol is HDL, and you should have at least 60mg/dL. A good level of total cholesterol, according to physicians, is 200mg/dL and this can be made up of both good and bad. Considering you shouldn’t have more that 100mg/dL of the bad stuff, you want at least 100mg/dL of the good stuff. The more good cholesterol you have, the better it is for you. Good cholesterol can keep the bad stuff at bay and under control.
What exactly is cholesterol? It’s a fatty substance that is only found in animal products. It is naturally produced by your body, but can also be added to food. The body will make more cholesterol due to trans and saturated fats being added through food. Both types of cholesterol will enter the arteries and build up. The good stuff builds up as a lining to the arteries, protecting them from damage. The lining is soft and makes it easier for the blood to flow through the veins.
On the other hand, bad cholesterol blocks the arteries. It creates a friction layer that stops the blood flowing freely. The heart and brain don’t get the blood that they both need and clogs can appear in the arteries. You’re at a higher risk of suffering various health problems, including stroke and heart disease, because of your high bad cholesterol levels.
There are various types of people more at risk for having high cholesterol levels. There are certainly genetic factors involved, but there are also lifestyle factors. One of those is stress levels, especially in those who are overweight, smoke or have other health problems.
Stress and the Unhealthy Lifestyle: One of the reasons found for the stress and high cholesterol link is bad lifestyle habits. Those who are stressed are more likely to follow less healthy habits in other areas of their life. They’re less likely to exercise and more likely to eat bad food. After all, saturated and trans fat foods tend to be the comfort foods – those that people crave to try to boost their endorphin and serotonin levels.
People who are stressed will look for ways to counter their cortisol levels, and that is usually through unhealthy methods. People are more likely to drink or smoke, which puts other strains on their body. The body isn’t able to produce the good cholesterol and is encouraged to create bad cholesterol. This reason is highly common in men. It is men who tend to deal with stress the worst, possibly due to misconceptions that relaxation techniques are for women. They also tend to have higher stressful jobs than women, since many men are in higher positions of power and authority. Men tend to be in more leadership roles, which means more responsibility and decision making. It may not seem fair, but that’s just a common view.
How the Body Reacts to Stress Causes High Cholesterol Levels: Another study found that people who suffer from high levels of stress have higher bad cholesterol due to the high levels of triglycerides. The triglycerides are the components that encourage the boost of bad cholesterol levels, causing major health problems. It doesn’t matter what your diet is like, although the unhealthier diet will put you more at risk.
The study researchers considered the reasons for the higher triglycerides. While the exact reason isn’t known, the theory is that it is due to the stress hormone cortisol. This is common is people who suffer long term stress, and leads to the release of adrenaline in the body.
Adrenaline is the body’s “flight or fight” response and helps to deal with the stress levels. It pushes people into making decisions and keeps them alert and active when they desperately need to be. Many people in trauma incidents report that they don’t know how they kept going. The adrenaline pushed them forward until they were given a chance to relax. That was when their bodies shut down, and they had the chance to allow the trauma to affect them. Adrenaline can certainly have benefits, but it causes the increase in triglycerides. This then triggers the high levels of bad cholesterol, which can later affect the body in other ways.
Stress Can Cause “Stickiness” in the Arteries: Another study has found that the arteries can be “sticky” due to high-stress levels. This may or may not be linked to high cholesterol levels. It could be a problem on its own that makes it look like someone has high cholesterol levels.
Stress makes the muscles spasm. This affects the arteries, which causes problems with the blood flow. The platelets in people with high-stress levels are commonly “sticky.” They cling to the artery walls and create bumps and friction for the blood flow. The blood is more likely to clog, and other health problems arise. The constriction of the arteries certainly doesn’t help things. When the arteries constrict, the area for the blood flow gets smaller, and it causes the blood flow to slow down. Mixed with the stickiness or high cholesterol problems, the blood gets stuck and clogs. It’s harder for the heart and brain to get the blood that they both need.
Stress causes many other health problems and affects the body in more ways that we currently know or understand. It is possible that stress isn’t just a factor for high cholesterol but makes high cholesterol worse for the health.
Reducing Stress to Prolong Life: Many scientists now recommend not focusing on reducing cholesterol as much as reducing stress. Cholesterol gained a bad rep for a long time, including good cholesterol. It’s taken time for the medical world to realize that not all cholesterol is bad and there are other factors that cause many of the same risks. One of those is the high-stress levels. It’s important to keep them to a minimum so the whole body can work effectively and we can prolong out lives.
The tricky thing is finding a way to reduce stress levels. Understandably reducing stress isn’t always easy and people can end up even more stressed because they’re trying to reduce it. Think about how you feel when you’re struggling to sleep because of stress. You get more worked up, which releases more cortisol and more adrenaline into the body. It’s harder to get to sleep, and this cycle continues until you find a way actually to reduce the stress.
Meditation and exercise are often considered the best ways to reduce stress. Yoga is a popular option since it combines the two together in many ways. You get to become one with yourself, focus on your breathing, and tone your body at the same time.
Both meditation and exercise help to release more happy hormones into your body. The right chemicals help to reduce the levels of cortisol in your body. You’ll have less adrenaline keeping you awake and fewer triglycerides causing your bad cholesterol production to increase.
It will be tempting to reach for a glass or two (or even a bottle) of wine to deal with stress. Smoking is tempting, along with binge watching a TV series while you struggle to sleep. You want to look for healthier ways to handle your stress. The negative ways will just cause more problems for your health.
Long Term vs. Short Term Stress and Cholesterol: If you have the odd day where you feel like you’re at the end of your tether, don’t worry about it too much. It’s not the short-term stress that causes the increase in cholesterol levels. The studies show that those who suffer long term stress are the ones who are most likely to see all the negative side effects.
Sure, stress isn’t good for you, but it is also a normal part of living. There are times that adrenaline and cortisol are needed. They can keep you going when you run out of energy or when going through trauma.
Those who suffer long term stress will have prolonged cortisol and adrenaline levels. Those hormones will be much higher than they need to be and in the body for much longer. They cause a range of health problems when around for long periods of time, including high blood pressure, insomnia, and even Type II diabetes. It shouldn’t be surprising that high cholesterol levels are also a problem.
Healthy eating is an important lifestyle choice. Not only will it help to reduce the foods that cause cholesterol production but it can also reduce the cortisol release. Healthy foods protect the body, supply energy, and help to boost the production of happy hormones, which help to reduce the stress hormones.
When you suffer from long term stress, you will want to look for ways to eliminate the reason for stress as much as possible. I know this isn’t always going to be easy. You may enjoy your career, but there will be times that you struggle to cope with all the demand your job throws at you. It’s not like you can just pick and choose. However, if there is a way that you can reduce the stuff you do that causes stress, such as delegation, then you want to do it where you can.
Long term high-stress levels may not cause immediate problems. There are links to issues years down the line because of the stress levels that you have felt at some point in your life. This issue is linked more with long term stress, but some bouts of short-term stress can also be a problem.
Stress Isn’t the Only Culprit: It is important to note that stress isn’t the only reason we suffer from high cholesterol levels. While it’s a silent killer and common, there are many other reasons your cholesterol levels could be high. Diet is certainly a factor, but so are genetics and other lifestyle choices that you make. The place you work or the chemicals that you inhale from where you live can also cause cholesterol levels to increase.
This is something that scientists are still trying to understand. We have come a long way since believing that all cholesterol was bad. Now we know that some cholesterol is good, and we want it to our bodies, but we need to make sure that it is good. While stress isn’t the only culprit, it is one of the main reasons for high cholesterol levels and other health problems. It’s best to keep the stress levels at bay as much as possible.”