How Does Stress Contribute to Cholesterol?

Most of us know that too much stress isn't good for us. But did you know stress can also impact on your cholesterol levels? Cholesterol is an essential nutrient our bodies need. It plays an important role in keeping us healthy. However, too much cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke. In this blog post, we'll explore how stress contributes to high cholesterol levels and look at what steps we can take to reduce its effects. So whether you're looking to change your diet or find ways to manage your stress, read on to better understand how these two things are related!

Stress can have several effects on your body, including raising your cholesterol levels. This can happen due to unhealthy habits or biological reasons.

According to a 2013 study, more than 91,593 people experienced a rise in their unhealthy cholesterol levels due to job stress.

A 2017 published study found a link between psychological stress and cholesterol.

It showed how more psychological stress can elevate the LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides in the body and decrease the HDL (good cholesterol) simultaneously.

In general, a healthy adult should have the following cortisol levels −

Total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL.

LDL cholesterol for people with diabetes or heart disease should be less than 70 mg/dL or below 100 mg/dL for healthy individuals.

HDL cholesterol should be 40 mg/dL or higher for men. In women, it should be 50 mg/dL or higher.

Triglycerides levels should be less than 150 mg/dL

Link Between Stress and Cholesterol

High Cortisol Levels

People experiencing long-term stress have a high cortisol hormone level. This increases the cholesterol levels in the body.

 High cortisol levels can also lead to symptoms like weight gain around the stomach, and increased appetite. People under stress tend to eat more. They often use comfort foods containing mostly sugar, carbs, and fats. As we know, eating too much c leads to weight gain, ultimately leading to high cholesterol levels.

Stress is known to negatively affects the immune system. This can cause inflammation in the body. When that happens, it increases cholesterol levels, especially in people with liver diseases. Scientists also believe that the long-term inflammatory effects of stress can also increase lipid levels and obesity in people suffering from depression and severe anxiety disorders.


Stress can cause Hemoconcentration. This is a condition when your blood loses fluids. Consequently, it concentrates all the components in the blood, including cholesterol. This is how stress can lead to cause higher cholesterol levels in your blood in the short term.

Experts think this could be because of a rise in blood pressure. This causes the fluids to move to the interstitial spaces from the blood vessels.

Fatty Acids

During stress, your body releases free fatty energy and glucose for energy. If you do not use the energy, it could increase your cholesterol.

Other Effects of Stress on the Body

Mental stress can cause ischemic heart disease. It is a condition where not enough blood flows to the heart as required. This generally happens in people with coronary heart disease (CHD).

This is backed by a 2013 study. The researchers measure heart ischemia.

The Cardiovascular Reactivity Theory

This theory states that the cardiovascular system of some people reacts more to stress. For instance, some people experience high blood pressure when experiencing stress.

People with high cholesterol levels are already at risk of a heart attack or any cardiovascular events. Stress could trigger that event. High cholesterol can change the arteries wall of the patient. This strips the elasticity of the arteries. As a result, the blood vessels do not expand when a stressful event occurs.

Stress can Lead to Unhealthy Habits

The primary factor linking stress with higher cholesterol is how people handle themselves during a stressful event.

People experiencing stress tend to eat unhealthy foods, resulting in weight gain. Some smoke, drinks alcohol, and spend more time lying on bed or couch. All of these can trigger your cholesterol levels.

Studies say that stress can worsen your cholesterol levels. In a study, researchers tracked the cholesterol levels of 200 middle-aged men and women for three years. People who encounter stress during this period have elevated cholesterol levels than the rest.

Younger people can have high cholesterol in their system when facing stress. Researchers observed the cholesterol levels of 208 college students aged 30 or younger during their exams. They find higher cortisol, cholesterol, and adrenaline levels in their blood.

Prevention and Treatment of Stress and Cholesterol

Treating and Preventing Stress

Preventing stress remains the best way to manage the cholesterol levels in the system.

If you suffer from long-term stress, it could damage your health more than short-term stress. Taking steps to lower your stress gradually can help you prevent cholesterol issues. Even if stress is a part of life, you should try any options available to manage it.

You should start by delegating some responsibilities to reduce stress. Other than that, you should also start exercising more. Most importantly, you should approach a trained therapist to discuss issues triggering your stress.

Exercise or Workout

Exercising regularly can significantly help you control your stress and cholesterol. You can do that just by walking for thirty minutes. American Heart Association says cleaning your house regularly equals walking for 30 minutes. 

You can also join a gym with a fitness goal. However, make sure to keep your goals realistic and don’t expect to get into great shape overnight. It’s better if you start with simple goals, small workouts and gradually increase the intensity over time.

Eat Healthy

The most effective way to control cholesterol levels is by eating healthy foods.

Starts with cutting back saturated and Trans fat from your diet. Switch to skinless white meat and fish from red meats and processed foods.

Replace full-fat dairy products with low and non-fat ones. Avoid simple carbs such as sugar and refined floors. Instead, eat whole grains and fresh produce for proper nutrients and natural fibers.

Instead of going for a full-on diet, focus on small changes. Studies show that cutting calories can increase your cortisol levels. This can only make your cholesterol levels worse.

Medications and Supplements

If managing stress hasn’t reduced your cholesterol levels, you should use medications or alternative therapies.

Some medicines and supplements that help reduce cholesterol include statins, niacin, fibrates, and omega-3 fatty acids.

You shouldn’t self-medicate yourself. Always consult your doctor for a treatment plan. If you are taking natural herbs, you must consult your doctor and ensure it doesn’t interfere with your current medications or supplements.


There is indeed a connection between stress and high cholesterol. Even if your cholesterol levels are in the correct numbers, you should always try to keep your stress in control. Consult a professional if your stress is taking over your health. They can help you with a healthy diet, exercise plans, and medications if needed. A doctor can also recommend a licensed and qualified therapist for you if they think you need help.

Updated on: 30-Mar-2023


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