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

cing. The color-word task involved flashing a series of target color words in incongruous colors on a computer screen (ex. Yellow letters spelling the color blue). At the bottom of the computer screen, four names of colors were displayed in incorrect colors. The object of the task was to match the name of the color to the target word. The other task used was mirror tracing, which required the participant to trace a star seen in a mirror image. The participants were told to focus more on accuracy than on speed in both tasks.

At the follow up three years later, cholesterol levels in all the participants in the study had gone up, as might be expected through passage of time. However, individuals with larger initial stress responses had substantially greater rises in cholesterol than those with small stress responses. The people in the top third of stress responders were three times more likely to have a level of 'bad' (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol above clinical thresholds than were people in the bottom third of stress responders. These differences were independent of their baseline levels of cholesterol levels, gender, age, hormone replacement, body mass index, smoking or alcohol consumption.

The authors found no sex differences among the participants in their cholesterol levels and response to stress. Steptoe and Brydon speculate on the reasons why acute stress responses may raise fasting serum lipids. One possibility may be that stress encourages the body to produce more energy in the form of metabolic fuels fatty acids and glucose. These substances require the liver to produce and secrete more LDL, which is the principal carrier of cholesterol in the blood. Another reason may be that stress interferes with lipid clearance and a third possibility could be that stress increases production of a number of inflammatory processes like, interleukin 6, tumor necrosis factor and C-Reactive protein that also increase lipid production.

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Contact: Pam Willenz
pwillenz@apa.org
202-336-5707
American Psychological Association
22-Nov-2005


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