Cholesterol induced Illness and Changed Lifestyles
"I would be surprised if the effects of stress were as big as the impact of lifestyle on cholesterol." said the lead author of the study, Dr. Andrew Steptoe of the University College London. "What this study does is help us understand exactly how stress is linked with heart disease."
Chronic stress is associated with a range of problems, including heart attacks, the common cold and even a shorter life expectancy. Steptoe's study, published in Health Psychology, looked at nearly 200 middle-aged men and women to see if stressful events triggered higher cholesterol three years later.
After having their cholesterol levels measured, the participants were put through a series of mild, nerve-rattling tests, such as picking the correct names of various colors that were rapidly flashing on a computer screen. They were tracked for changes in heart rate and other signs to see how they handled the pressure.
Three years later, the researchers measured cholesterol levels again. As to be expected, all showed higher levels than before, a common occurrence with growing older. But those who had the highest stress response to the test also had the highest cholesterol levels three years later. Compared to participants who seemed to take the tests in stride, the most stressed-out group was three times more likely to have dangerously high LDL, or bad cholesterol, down the road.
No one can avoid stress completely, but Steptoe said the key is how you handle it. "It is the combination of exposure to stressful conditions and the way in which we respond to those conditions that is crucial." he said.
This spike in cholesterol was independent of the usual culprits, like being overweight or smoking. Steptoe suggests that stress may produce more nervous energy in the form of harmful fatty acids and sugar, or it may even interfere with the body's ability to get rid of cholesterol. The rise in cholesterol was relatively modest, Steptoe added, at least in comparison to a poor diet or other causes.
Still, with stress linked to heart problems already, higher cholesterol is the last thing anyone would need. "The best way of maintaining heart health is still regular physical activity, a prudent diet, controlling body weight and not smoking." he said.