Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Stress and cholesterol

Medical memo

Stress and cholesterol

The body's metabolism is complex "" and despite major scientific advances, its fine print is still a bit hard to read. That's true even for a molecule as important as cholesterol. Researchers have learned that a man's blood cholesterol profile results from the interplay of many influences, including genetics, hormones, diet, body fat, exercise, and exposure to alcohol, tobacco, supplements, and medication. And a study from England suggests that this formidable list should be expanded further by adding stress.

A stressful study

The subjects were 106 male and 93 female British civil servants between the ages of 45 and 59. None had coronary artery disease or hypertension, and none was taking drugs for cholesterol or blood pressure. At the beginning of the study, each volunteer was weighed and measured, and each filled out a medical questionnaire. After blood samples were obtained, each subject was asked to perform a series of mentally stressful tasks while being monitored to evaluate their psychological and chemical responses. A final blood sample was obtained at the end of each experimental session.

Although there was considerable variation among the subjects, stress did produce an increase in blood cholesterol levels. On average, the total cholesterol rose about 7 mg/dl "" the LDL ("bad") cholesterol by 5 mg/dl, and the HDL ("good") cholesterol by 1.6 mg/dl.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »