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Does Stress Cause High Cholesterol?

By Patricia Culpepper ; Updated August 14, 2017

Stress can be defined as an imbalance between the demands placed on you and your ability to manage those demands. Only a few studies have examined the relationship between stress and high cholesterol, according to a June 2014 review in "Endocrine Connections." These studies have suggested a link between stress and cholesterol, but the exact nature of the relationship is uncertain. It is unclear whether high cholesterol is due to stress itself or some other factor, such as the way a person copes with stress.

Job Stress and Unhealthy Cholesterol

According to large study in the March 2013 issue of "Scandinavian Journal of Public Health," workers reporting job stress during the previous year had higher cholesterol levels. They were more likely to have high levels of low-density lipoprotein -- LDL, the bad cholesterol -- and low levels of high-density lipoprotein -- HDL, the good cholesterol. This link between job stress and unhealthy cholesterol levels existed even after the researchers tried to remove the effects of other lifestyle habits known to promote unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Immediate Effects of Stress

A study reported in the November 2005 issue of "Health Psychology" evaluated the effects of stress on cholesterol levels more directly. Immediately after a group of adults performed stressful mental tasks, their blood was tested. The results showed a small, but significant increase in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol compared to the levels before the tasks. Of note, LDL increased more than HDL. Although this study seemed to demonstrate a direct effect of stress on cholesterol, it was an experimental situation, so this does not necessarily mean that stress causes high cholesterol in people during their everyday lives.

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