Can Stress Raise Cholesterol?

In short, yes! Learn why here.

stressed woman

Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

Yes, stress can absolutely raise cholesterol (the fatty substance found in your cells)! So, read on to learn more about the relationship between stress and cholesterol levels and how to manage your stress and cholesterol levels.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a wax-like, fatty substance located in your body's cells. Your body uses cholesterol to perform necessary bodily functions, including making vitamin D and hormones.

Too much cholesterol (particularly 'bad' cholesterol like LDL cholesterol) can combine with other substances in your body. This, in turn, forms plaque. Plaque can then build up in your arteries which can lead to health complications—especially heart-related conditions.

Can Stress Raise Cholesterol?

A 2017 study found high rates of cholesterol in those experiencing occupational stress.

For example, those with irregular or long hours, like truck drivers or graveyard shift workers, were more predisposed to experience increased cholesterol levels. This is likely because job responsibilities are ongoing. Therefore, the stress would be classified as chronic rather than acute.

The most significant predictor of increased cholesterol amongst the workers was high levels of psychological stress.

You don’t have to be driving long distances or working overnight to experience psychological stress at work. Tight deadlines, emotionally taxing duties, or a toxic work environment can have an emotional impact.

It isn’t all bad news, though. The same study stated that non-stressful work activities could be beneficial and physical activity can be a protective factor. 

Why Does Stress Raise Cholesterol Levels?

Now that we know chronic stress can raise cholesterol levels let’s look into why that is.

How Stress Raises Cholesterol

First, mental and physical stress triggers the release of cortisol, increases blood pressure, and quickens the heart rate. This combination then triggers increased cholesterol levels. 

How to Reduce Your Cholesterol Levels

Good news! There are ways to reduce your cholesterol levels. Making healthier food choices, getting physical exercise, and managing your weight can help lower your cholesterol levels.

If lifestyle changes don't work, there are prescription drugs available that can assist you.

Exercise and Weight Management

One study showed that exercise does help to lower cholesterol levels. In fact, exercise type can target different forms of cholesterol.

Eat Healthier Foods

Another way to keep your stress down while also nourishing your body is to cook your own meals. Go to your local farmers market and pick out an array of colorful vegetables.

Experiment with the different flavors and textures to create a dish. The practice of preparing your food is clinically proven to help boost one's mental health and is even used in therapeutic settings.

Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

Usually, cholesterol-lowering drugs are suggested if you've implemented lifestyle changes and your cholesterol levels are still too high. Or, if you've already suffered a stroke or heart attack, your doctor may recommend medication.

Some cholesterol-lowering drugs include statins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, and nicotinic acid.

How to Reduce Your Stress Levels

There are ways to keep your mind and body healthy, even when you're stressed. All involve lifestyle shifts.

Relaxation Techniques

First, consider bringing some relaxation techniques into your daily life. This can be as simple as deep breathing. You can pause anytime during your day to bring oxygen in through your nose and out through your mouth. This option is excellent for those who have daily stressors in their work because it can be done anytime, anywhere.

Seek Help From a Therapist

If you're sensing that your stress levels are indicative of greater internal challenges, it can't hurt to seek out the support of a mental health professional. A licensed therapist can support you in making meaning out of the hurt you've experienced, and you can expect to reach develop coping tools to help you navigate stress.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.