Too much worrying and stress can increase your cholesterol and your heart risk
You order grilled fish and salad at your favorite restaurant instead of the fried combo platter. You are truly making efforts to lower your cholesterol. In fact, you are so concerned about it, it’s stressing you out. What you might not realize is that stress (whatever its source) can actually increase your cholesterol. This, in turn, raises your risk of heart disease.
How does stress increase my cholesterol?
Stress --> Cortisol --> High Cholesterol
You’ve probably heard the term “fight-or-flight response.” This is the physical reaction the body has when faced with a stressful situation. Your systems spring into action, preparing you to stay and fight the threat, or run away. The more often you feel stressed, the more often your body goes through this process. If you are constantly stressed, your systems are constantly on alert, thinking they need to be ready to fight or flee at all times.On the surface, you may notice sweating or increased heart rate as your body prepares for action. What you can’t see are the hormones being produced and pumped through your system as it prepares to respond.
One of these hormones is cortisol. Cortisol helps in the fight-or-flight function by delivering glucose to the body. What happens when your body is constantly under stress and in this fight-or-flight condition? The cortisol works overtime and keeps your blood-sugar levels high. This results in elevated cholesterol levels.
Metabolic Fuels --> Liver Production of LDL --> High Cholesterol
LDL is the “bad cholesterol.” When stress triggers cortisol, which triggers the production of metabolic fuels (such as glucose,) the liver also springs into action. It begins to produce more of the bad cholesterol LDL in response to the increased levels of glucose and fatty acids.
High Cholesterol --> Hardening of the Arteries --> Heart Disease/Heart Attack
Too much cholesterol in your blood causes damage to your arteries. The cholesterol builds up on your arterial walls. This eventually causes your arteries to “harden,” becoming narrow. When this happens, blood flow is restricted or blocked altogether. If blood can’t get to your heart, you suffer a heart attack.
Breaking the Chain of Stress-Related Cholesterol
Reversing this chain reaction, we see that stress is an unhealthy trigger that results in raised cholesterol levels. It is important to break this chain, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart risk.
Change Your Habitual Response To Stress
We’ve covered how your body responds internally to stress. We see how this can cause an increase in cholesterol. Your external response can do the same.Often, we develop unhealthy habits to try to handle stress. We turn to food to soothe our souls. We light up a cigarette. We try to escape out our troubles by vegging out in front of the TV. We end up developing the unhealthy habits of overeating, smoking, and failing to exercise. These all contribute to raising your cholesterol.It is important to find healthy ways to handle stress. By coping with stress in better ways, you can avoid increasing your chances of high cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.
Lessen the Intensity of Your Reaction To Stress
A study conducted by University of College London researches found that “individuals with larger initial stress responses had substantially greater rises in cholesterol than those with small stress responses.” In fact, those in the top third of stress responders were three times more likely to have high cholesterol. Based on this study, researchers concluded, “It appears that a person's reaction to stress is one mechanism through which higher lipid levels may develop.”
Clearly, decreasing your reaction to stress will increase your health. Because stress is a key factor affecting your health on multiple levels, it is essential to find ways to manage stress in the best way possible. This will help reduce your risk of high cholesterol, which leads to greater risk of heart disease.
Tips to Get A Heart Healthy Handle On Stress
If stress increases your cholesterol and leads to heart risks, how can you go about reducing these risks? Healthy responses to stress, healthy stress relievers, and healthy living that stops stress before it starts are all steps in the right direction. Try the following stress-reducing techniques.
8 Ways to Reduce Stress
- Just…Relax – Your schedule is hectic. You have no down time. Every second is filled with one task after another. How stressful. Take a break. You may think you don’t have the time, but make the time. You’re surfing the net right now, so you do have at least a few minutes to spare. Take just seven minutes each day to stop. Sit quietly. Do some stretches. Take deep breaths. Meditate. Pray. Do whatever gets your mind to slow down so your body does too.
- LOL – Laughter is a great tension reliever. Watch a funny movie. Listen to a comedian. Treat yourself to some smiles and laughter to release the stress and help your heart.
- Eat sress-fighting foods – Choosing the right foods can help reduce your stress. Hello Heart offers a list of Foods That Fight Stress. Don’t worry, they aren’t things you’ll hate. One of them is chocolate!
- Be social – Make time for family and friends. Depending on your family and friends, this may sound stressful. Generally, though, it’s a good idea. You need to set aside the stress for a while and just kick back and have a good time.
- Learn to say NO – Just because you’re asked to serve on yet another committee doesn’t mean you have to. You don’t have to attend every single game your kids or grandkids participate in. Someone else can cover that extra work shift. It doesn’t always have to be you. It’s ok to say no, especially when you are feeling stretched too thin. Say no to over scheduling and stress. Say yes to heart health.
- EZ Exercise – A good workout is a great stress reliever. In order to ensure you make time for exercise, make it easy. Don’t join the gym if you know you’ll never go. Don’t take up running if you hate to run. Pick something you enjoy and is the most convenient for you.
- Pet your dog – Petting your dog or cat helps your body release the hormone oxytocin that is known to reduce stress. This is no small thing to heart health when you consider the toll that stress takes on the body.
- Track Stress Level Changes - As you take steps to monitor and reduce your stress level, another helpful step is to see if what you are doing is truly affecting your cardiovascular system. The most reliable way to do this is by monitoring your blood pressure at home.
With the use of a home blood pressure measuring device, you can track your heart health. As you make changes in your lifestyle, you can track changes in your blood pressure. This will help you see what is working best, and know what additional changes should be made. Making healthy choices will result in healthy blood pressure numbers and reduced risk of heart disease.Tracking changes in your blood pressure is easy with Hello Heart (iOS, Android), a free app that works with all blood pressure monitoring devices. There is no added stress of difficult records or processes. You can download the Hello Heart (iOS, Android) app now to start tracking your stress levels today.
You know your best stress relievers better than anyone. If there is an activity you know relaxes you or relieves stress, take the time to do it. Maybe it’s a long walk, or painting, or wood working. Whatever works for you, do it! It’s important to keep your heart health a priority, and this includes bringing down your stress levels. This will, in turn, help your cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease.
Hello Heart is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. You should always consult with your doctor about your individual care.
1. Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27008. Accessed October 19, 2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. See additional important study limitations in the publication. This study showed that 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163 were able to reduce their blood pressure by 21 mmHg using the Hello Heart program.) (2) Livongo Health, Inc. Form S-1 Registration Statement. https:/www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1639225/000119312519185159/d731249ds1.htm. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed October 19, 2022. (In a pilot study that lasted six weeks, individuals starting with a blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mmHg, on average, had a 10 mmHG reduction.) NOTE: This comparison is not based on a head-to-head study, and the difference in results may be due in part to different study protocols.
2. Validation Institute. 2021 Validation Report (Valid Through October 2022). https://validationinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Hello_Heart-Savings-2021- Final.pdf. Published October 2021. Accessed October 19, 2022. (This analysis was commissioned by Hello Heart, which provided a summary report of self-fundedemployer client medical claims data for 203 Hello Heart users and 200 non-users from 2017-2020. Findings have not been subjected to peer review.)