Unhealthy food choices, lack of exercise, smoking, and genetics are all factors contributing to high cholesterol, but one undermentioned factor is the role chronic stress plays in cholesterol and heart health.
Whether you have a tough job, you have relationship problems, or other high anxiety situations in your life, chronic stress can raise cholesterol in a number of ways. When stressed the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released which activate our fight or flight response. These hormones increase energy production by releasing glucose and fatty acids into your bloodstream to supply energy to your muscles. Epinephrine increases your heart rate and cortisol narrows your arteries which helps your heart pump blood faster to deliver oxygen and glucose to your muscles.
Releasing some cortisol is normal and actually healthy, but chronically elevated levels can raise cholesterol, effect your weight, decrease your immune function, and increase your chronic disease risk. Cortisol also increases hunger signals in the brain resulting in cravings for high calorie foods. Stressed people often stop exercising too, which contributes to higher cholesterol levels as well.
Tax day is fast approaching and one study published in Circulation Journal looked at how taxes impact cholesterol. The study followed accountants filing individual income-tax returns through tax season. The accountants were 28-50 years old and remained consistent with their diets and exercise routines through the study period. Researchers found cholesterol rose on average 13% from 206 mg/dL in January to 232 mg/dL on April 15th and then back down to 215 mg/dL in June.
Similar research on airline pilots found total and LDL cholesterol rose about 5% when under high stress preparing for recertification exams. Cholesterol levels also rose when pilots were asked to give a speech on short notice.
Stress management is important for cardiac health and should include regular exercise, adequate sleep, and relaxation. Limit caffeine as this can stimulate cortisol. Also limit sugar, chocolate, baked goods, and white grains as these are stimulants which can also elevate triglycerides. Avoid high saturated fat foods which can increase cholesterol such as butter, cheese, ice cream, red meat, fried foods, whole milk, 2% milk, baked goods, and many packaged snacks. Focus on eating a well balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, and a small amount of healthy fat every day.