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Mental stress may be another culprit in raising cholesterol levels in healthy adults

There is good evidence to show that stress can increase a person's heart rate, lower the immune system's ability to fight colds and increase certain inflammatory markers but can stress also raise a person's cholesterol? It appears so for some people, according to a new study that examines how reactions to stress over a period of time can raise a person's lipid levels.

This finding is reported in the November issue of Health Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). In a sample of 199 healthy middle-aged men and women, researchers Andrew Steptoe, D.Sc., and Lena Brydon, Ph.D., of University College London examined how individuals react to stress and whether this reaction can increase cholesterol and heighten cardiovascular risk in the future. Changes in total cholesterol, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), were assessed in the participants before and three years after completing two stress tasks.

Our study found that individuals vary in their cholesterol responses to stress, said Dr. Steptoe. "Some of the participants show large increases even in the short term, while others show very little response. The cholesterol responses that we measured in the lab probably reflect the way people react to challenges in everyday life as well. So the larger cholesterol responders to stress tasks will be large responders to emotional situations in their lives. It is these responses in everyday life that accumulate to lead to an increase in fasting cholesterol or lipid levels three years later. It appears that a person's reaction to stress is one mechanism through which higher lipid levels may develop."

The stress testing session involved examining the participants' cardiovascular, inflammatory and hemostatic functions before and after their responses to performance on moderately stressful behavioral tasks. The stress tasks used were computerized color-word interference and mirror tra
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Contact: Pam Willenz
pwillenz@apa.org
202-336-5707
American Psychological Association
22-Nov-2005


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