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What Is the Connection between Stress and Cholesterol?

By YaShekia King
Updated May 17, 2024
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When an individual is trying to juggle work with school and kids, becoming stressed out can be easy. Increased cholesterol levels often follow incidences of stress, which is why stress and cholesterol are strongly connected and can both be damaging to a body’s functions as well as an individual’s quality of life. Getting rid of either stress or cholesterol, however, can help a person get rid of the other vice.

When an individual experiences stress — caused by a major traumatic event such as a family death or even a minor event such as a traffic jam, for instance — the body discharges two chemicals called cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is critical to every one of the body's functions, including that of the immune system and even bone metabolism. Cortisol is manufactured in the body’s adrenal glands and made from cholesterol. Adrenaline also is a hormone created by the adrenal glands.

Both adrenaline and cortisol activate the body’s cholesterol and fats, which the muscles need to cope with stressful situations. When the fats and cholesterol go unused, however, these excess substances can block the arteries and lead to medical issues such as high blood pressure. In fact, arteries that are clogged with cholesterol can also lead to stress, which is another connection between stress and cholesterol. In addition, when someone is stressed out, he or she can be prone to eating fattier foods to find comfort, which can contribute to high cholesterol levels in the bloodstream as well. Problems with cholesterol levels essentially are a strong indicator of how people react to difficulties in their everyday lives and deal with stress.

To combat the effects of stress and cholesterol levels, an individual should exercise at least three days a week for 30 minutes each time. This not only helps him or her to relieve stress, it also can create a boost in high density lipoprotein (HDL), which is considered the good form of cholesterol. HDL actually moves unhealthy cholesterol out of the bloodstream so that it has a smaller likelihood of causing high blood pressure and subsequent health problems such as heart attacks.

Completing breathing exercises, setting time aside for a relaxing nap or getting a massage also can reduce a person’s stress levels and thus bring down cholesterol levels. In addition, excluding the skin of meat and eating only lean meat can decrease the amount of cholesterol that enters an individual’s body. Eating healthier in general is a good mechanism for defeating stress and cholesterol.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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