Stress and Cholesterol

How does stress affect cholesterol levels?

Stress has various effects on the body. One of these is that it may increase cholesterol levels. This can happen indirectly through adopting unhealthful habits as a way of coping. However, there may also be a direct biological link.

When the body faces stress, certain physiological reactions take place, including changes in levels of hormones and components in the blood. Both of these events might lead to higher cholesterol.

Scientists do not know precisely what links stress and cholesterol, but there are several theories. This article looks at why this might happen and how to reduce the risk of stress-related cholesterol problems.

How the body reacts to stress

When a person faces stress, their body automatically prepares their muscles, heart, and other organs and functions for a high-energy, fight-or-flight response.

Whether the person decides to run away or to stay and face the threat, their body will react in certain ways.

The body will release the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, and cortisol.

Epinephrine triggers the heart to work harder, leading to a rise in:

  • heart rate
  • breathing
  • blood pressure

Cortisol causes the body to releases glucose and fatty acids to the muscles and blood for use as energy. You can learn more about the link between stress and cortisol and how to reduce stress-related cortisol levels here.

These hormone levels will usually remain high until the person resolves the stressful situation. However, sometimes the stress levels do not drop or take time to return to their lower levels.

These factors may lead to higher cholesterol levels both in the long-term and the short-term.

Stress and cholesterol

A 2013 study Trusted Source that looked at data for 91,593 people found a positive correlation between those who experienced job stress and unhealthful cholesterol levels.

Another study Trusted Source, published in 2017, also found that psychological stress led to higher levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, and decreasing levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol.

Scientists have suggested some ways in which stress reactions can lead to higher cholesterol.


When a person faces stress, they may experience hemoconcentration. This causes the blood to lose fluid. The components of the blood, including cholesterol, become more concentrated. This could be one way in which stress leads to higher cholesterol levels in the short term.

One possible reason for this may be that as blood pressure rises, fluid moves from the blood vessels to the interstitial spaces around them.


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