More than half of Americans say that their job is the number one stress factor in their life. We know stress isn’t good, but stress and cholesterol, how are they linked?
Maybe that’s because the average time spent at work per day is 8.6 hours.
Stress can lead to various health complications like anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure–not too heart friendly.
Recent studies are showing that stress and cholesterol levels are also linked, raising more concern about stress’s effect on our bodies.
How Does Our Body React to Stress?
Nearly everyday, we encounter stressful situations at home, work, or somewhere in between when that guy in the BMW decides to cut us off in traffic.
Stress arises when our minds get into our archaic “fight or flight” response to different scenarios.
For example: It’s 4:30 PM on a Friday, you’re wrapping up the work week and excited to get home to your spouse and kids. Your boss pops in and asks you for a “quick” report for that project you’ve been working on.
Immediately, your brain starts going a thousand miles per hour and your body tenses. “How am I supposed to do that before 5? Is this guy kidding me? What’s the fastest way I can create this report?”
Just like that, your brain goes through every possible scenario in which it can either: 1) Get your way out of the situation, or flight response. 2) Achieve the task in the fastest, efficient way possible, or fight response.
Basics of Stress and Cholesterol
Before we enter any discussion on studies, here is a quick overview of what cholesterol is:
A waxy, fatty substance found in the body to produce vitamin d, hormones, and other digestive substances.
There are 3 types of cholesterol:
Low Density Lipoproteins (Bad Cholesterol)
High Density Lipoproteins (Good Cholesterol)
Triglycerides (Technically not cholesterol, but is associated as a harmful fat)
When there is too much LDL in your blood cells, they can collect along arterial walls and create blockages for the blood stream and lead to heart disease and heart attacks.
How Does Stress Affect Cholesterol?
Your brain releases cortisol and adrenaline in order to get more glucose (energy) to the body to prepare itself to fight or fight. The body stores fat in order so it’s not used in this “emergency state” as energy.
This instant spike in cortisol and adrenaline tightens blood vessels and raises cholesterol levels temporarily.
Over time, too much stress will create higher amounts of glucose in the body that it doesn’t truly need, raising cholesterol levels more permanently.
One British study took 200 men and women government workers to test their stress and cholesterol levels.
The researchers had all the volunteers take 2 stressful timed tests and immediately tested their cholesterol levels. They found that their LDL levels rose and their HDL levels fell.
Three years later, they retested the volunteers’ cholesterol again to find that those who originally tested highest after the 2 tests in the study now had the highest overall cholesterol.
The research showed that not only does cholesterol temporarily spike from stress, but generally stressed people have higher LDL and triglycerides than HDL.
Less stressed people have healthier HDL and LDL levels and have less risk of heart disease.