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High Cholesterol? Relax!

Did you know that stress could be causing your high cholesterol? Read on to see how stress and cholesterol are related.
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There are 101 things that could be contributing to your high cholesterol. The number one cause of high cholesterol is oxidized particles in the blood stream- which usually comes from chronic inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can come from a variety of sources, like an unhealthy diet and overweight body, but did you know that stress can also contribute to high cholesterol?

Studies have shown that stress increases your heart rate, lowers the immune system, and leads to increased overall inflammation. That’s right- stress can raise your cholesterol levels. Find out more about this strange connection below.

Stress and Cholesterol

In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) examined 199 healthy middle-aged men and women to see how they reacted to stress and if stress would increase heart risk by raising cholesterol or affecting the body in some other way. The researchers examined changes in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol at the start of the study and 3 years later.

At the start and end of the study each participant completed two stress tasks. What the researchers found was surprising. The stress tests the study participants took examined their reponses after completing mildly stressful tasks. The researchers examined the participants’ cardiovascular, hemostatic and inflammatory functions. Three years later, when the participants’ cholesterol levels were tested, it was found that although most participants had higher cholesterol levels overall, the participants who had higher stress responses had much higher overall cholesterol levels.

In fact, the top third of stress responders were three times more likely to have LDL cholesterol levels above clinical threshold levels independent of other physical and environmental factors. According to the researchers, "Some of the participants show large increases even in the short term, while others show very little response. The cholesterol responses that we measured in the lab probably reflect the way people react to challenges in everyday life as well.

So, the larger cholesterol responders to stress tasks will be large responders to emotional situations in their lives. It is these responses in everyday life that accumulate to lead to an increase in fasting cholesterol or lipid levels three years later. It appears that a person's reaction to stress is one mechanism through which higher lipid levels may develop."

Basically, a high emotional response to stress is more likely to raise cholesterol levels than a lower emotional response to stress. The researchers theorize that stress encourages more metabolic energy fuel- which are fatty acids ad glucose. Making these fuels requires the liver to produce and secrete higher amounts of LDL cholesterol (the primary carrier of cholesterol to the blood). Stress also interferes with lipid clearance and may lead to the production of inflammatory responses, like C-Reactive protein or interleukin 6, tumor necrosis factor. This increases lipid production and raises cholesterol levels.

The researchers, although not sure of the exact cause behind why high stress increases cholesterol, agree that high stress could increase a person’s risk for developing heart disease if they respond emotionally to the stress.

Easy Ways to Relieve Stress

Do you respond emotionally to stress? This increases your risk for high cholesterol in both the short-term and the long-term. The researchers found that in the highest level of emotional response to stress, cholesterol levels rose almost on-the-spot. This means that if your cholesterol levels are already borderline high, stressing out could drastically increase your risk for developing heart problems due to high cholesterol levels.

Luckily, one answer to lowering cholesterol levels is to simply change how you respond to stress and to find simple ways to relieve stress. The following methods will have you feeling more relaxed and stress-free in no time.

Physically Relax

When you are stressed, your muscles tighten, your eyes twitch, and your stomach knots. These are normal physical reactions to stress, but it is also reactions like these that raise cholesterol levels. You can trick your body into feeling less stressed by physically relaxing each part of your body individually. Start from the toes and consciously relax them. Gradually work your way to the top of your body relaxing each muscle group in turn. By the time you reach your face, you will already feel less stressed and relaxed.

Limit Electronic Use

One problem that today’s society faces is the inability to shut off sources of stress. With the Internet and cell phones, all sources of stress are right in your face at all times. Your boss can call at any moment and give you more work to do. You can check your bank balance and see you only have $12 left in your spending account. You can go online and see a friend who is apparently succeeding easily in life while you are struggling. All of these reminders can significantly raise your stress level. One simple way to relieve this stress is to set specific “online” hours. What hours you choose will depend on your schedule, but you should try to have at least 3-4 waking hours a day when you live “off the grid” so to speak. This will help you relax and de-stress.

Physical Touch

Physical touch is also a de-stressing activity. A hug, for example, can help ease the stress of the day and make you feel more upbeat about life. Studies show that massage, kissing, sex, and other physical touching can drastically reduce stress levels, and thereby, help you keep your cholesterol levels down.

Eat to Relieve Stress

What you eat can also help you control stress. A basic healthy diet full of vegetables, protein, fruit, and complex carbohydrates will help your body face stress in a healthier manner, as well as lower cholesterol levels on its own. When eating to relieve stress, pay particular attention to the following vitamins:

Vitamins That Lower Stress and Cholesterol
Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant that can improve cardiovascular health by removing artery wall plaque. A study from Finland in 2001 found that supplementing with vitamin E was able to reduce the peroxidation of lipids which lead to high cholesterol and plaque. 
B Vitamins: B vitamins, and particularly vitamin B5, B12, and B9, are essential for relieving stress and reducing overall cholesterol. B vitamins promote functioning of the brain and nervous system, fight fatigue, and improve relaxation abilities. They also help reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Most B vitamins can be found in beans, nuts, dairy products, and fish. 
Garlic and Turmeric: These two spices are amazing at reducing inflammation which can lower total cholesterol. In a 2011 study conducted by King Faisal University, researchers found that garlic and turmeric reduced oxidative stress and increased metabolic rate in study participants with diabetes (who often have high cholesterol levels).

Sleep Better

Insomnia raises the stress level of the body drastically. Getting enough sleep will help you eliminate excess stress without doing anything else. Sleep also lowers the stress hormone cortisol, which can contribute to a wide variety of trouble, including high cholesterol and obesity. Establishing a clear bedtime routine each night is one simple way to improve your sleep- as is eating foods that contain tryptophans.

Foods with Tryptophans
  • Turkey
  • Dairy
  • Bananas
  • Peanuts
  • Figs
  • Carbohydrates

Learn to Deal with Stress

Much of the relation between stress and cholesterol occurs in the moment that stress first hits. Emotionally responding to stress raises cholesterol levels almost instantly. This means that even if you deal with your stress later, it could still be negatively impacting your life. If you learn to deal with your stress less emotionally on-the-spot, you are less likely to have stress-related cholesterol spikes. Try employing the following tips to lower your emotional response to stress:

Identify Signs of Stress

Many people are unaware of the first signs of stress. Stress is easy to identify once you start looking, however. There are two simple triggers that everyone has during times of stress. These are tightened muscles and shallow breathing. Clinched hands, sore muscles, a tight jaw, or pained stomach are signs of stress. Shallow breathing, “forgetting” to breathe, or rapid breathing can all be signs of stress as well. If you notice these signs of stress, try to breathe normally and relax to deal with the stress on the spot.

Use the Senses to Ease Stress

According to Helpguide.org, the senses are an easy way to deal with stress on the spot. Which sense you identify with the most will be the sense that will help you relieve stress. It can take some time to find which sense appeals to you the most, but using the following three methods can help you identify the best way to relieve your stress:

Memory: Think about how you calmed down as a child. Did you have a favorite blanket or animal? Touch could be how you relieve stress. If you sang a happy song, ate a treat, or found smells soothing those could be your trigger senses.

Parents: Responses to stress are often hereditary, so how your parents blew off steam could be what you should do as well.

Others: Simply asking others around you how they relieve stress can provide you with insight into how to let things go. Ask others in your social circle how they like to relieve stress and try it out for yourself.

Five Simple Sensory Stress Relievers

Sound: If you love music, go to sleep with a sound machine, or find sounds relaxing, you might find auditory sounds the best method to quickly relieve stress. Try singing your favorite tune, listening to your favorite song, or hanging wind chimes outside your office window.

Sight: A visual person finds rest in images and soothing colors. Try looking at a photo of you during a happy time. Bring in a pretty picture or flowers to brighten up your office.

Touch: A tactile person will find touching something familiar soothing. Wear a soft sweater or a necklace you can play with while you work. Soak in a warm bath or use a self-massage roller on your back.

Smell: Someone who freezes during stress or becomes agitated may find smells relaxing or invigorating. Try lighting a scented candle or rubbing a soothing oil onto your skin like lavender. Go outside and smell the fresh air.

Taste: If you find eating relaxing, you may de-stress with taste. Just be careful, because stress eating is likely to raise your cholesterol levels more than the stress itself. Try sipping a glass of refreshing fruit-infused water or warm coffee. Eat a ripe piece of fruit, a tiny piece of dark chocolate, or food containing tryptophans.

Just because you identify with one stress reliever more than another does not mean you will not benefit from trying the other stress-relieving methods. Using a combination of stress-relieving methods will help keep your cholesterol levels down and your body healthy.

Prevent Stress-Related Cholesterol Hikes

Identifying all possible causes of high cholesterol will help you maintain a healthy body. You can eat all the healthy foods in the world, but if your cholesterol is rising from stress, you will still have a greater risk of heart problems. De-stressing is an important step to lowering your risk for dangerous heart problems and heart disease down the road. Pay attention to what raises your stress levels and work to relieve stress both on the stop and after the fact. Combining de-stress techniques with a healthy diet, exercise, and cholesterol-lowering supplements will help you maintain the healthiest body possible both now and into the future.

Sources


http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/hea-246601.pdf

http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/news/20051122/cut-stress-help-your-cholesterol

http://www.everydayhealth.com/cholesterol/experts-how-does-stress-contribute-to-cholesterol.aspx

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