Increased levels of stress in your daily life can raise your cholesterol level, but before we jump to conclusions, let’s consider that this really means.
Cholesterol and The Stress Connection
Most people would assume that stress increases cholesterol levels and that causes heart disease. Well…it’s not that simple. Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, although it is found “at the scene of the crime,” so to speak.
Your body has many mechanisms of self protection and this is but another one of them. Stress causes many changes in the body as it tried to protect itself from perceived dangers. This triggers “stress hormones” such as cortisol and adrenaline. These are what drive up cholesterol.
However it’s not the elevated cholesterol that’s the real problem, it what drives the increase in cholesterol, and that’s inflammation. Cholesterol is in some ways a “protective” substance in your body, and it can be raised by your body in response to stress, as part of this “protective” mechanism.
What DOES cause heart disease is inflammation, and stress does indeed drive up inflammation in a big way. There is a small town in Pennsylvania called Roseto, which was the subject of a study into the lifestyle of the people there and their surprisingly low rates of heart disease.
The heart disease rate in Roseto was VERY low, much lower than the US in general, even though many of the people there did the wrong things in terms of health habits. Many of them smoked, they ate fried foods, and the men did dangerous exhausting physical labor, in slate mines.
What could explain this? The answer is a lack of stress! Roseto was a small tight knit community. People were very engaged and involved in all aspects of community life. Often extended families of several generations lived in the same house.
Older people were respected and honored members of the community. The townspeople were surrounded by family, friends, and institutions like church and various social clubs and organizations they were members of.
Crime was pretty much non-existent, and people had strong shared values that they lived by. The support of family, friends, social institutions, and religion all helped keep these people free of the emotional stress that can be brought on by loneliness and isolation.
What the researchers found was that the lack of social connections was a better predictor of heart disease than cholesterol level, diet, or exercise! Surprised? Don’t be. Let’s face it…human beings are social creatures. We are designed to need each other to survive both physically and emotionally.
The most long lived cultures in the world all share this trait, that is strong family ties and community bonds that provide emotional support and allow them to deal with the challenges of life without being overly stressed.
Ways To Lower Your Stress Levels
There are a number of things you can do to lower stress and protect yourself against heart disease. The above mentioned emotional connections with family and community are probably THE most important factor, because if you don’t have this, then everything else you do is far less effective.
So you should strive to remain connected with family, and friends through the normal social connections like your church, civic organizations, activities you enjoy, ect.
You will not only protect your health, but enjoy your life a lot more in the process.
Here are some other things you can do to help prevent and alleviate stress in your life:
This is probably the most effective thing you can do to combat stress (beyond your social connections). Grounding causes your autonomic nervous system to have more tranquility, and lowers inflammation in your body.
You can do this by simply putting your bare feet on grass, (preferably wet), unpainted concrete, sand, or dirt. Indoors you can use a grounding mat or pad that plugs into your house wiring and grounds you to the outside.
In either case the more time you spend grounded, the more benefits you will notice. The difference? Just a noticeable absence of pain and tension, and an enhanced feeling of calm and well being. You should notice the difference within an hour of being grounded, and you will feel even better as time goes on.
Grounding also reduces the “stickiness” of your blood, and prevents blood clots that can cause strokes and other forms of heart disease. Heart rate variability, which is the ability of your heart to adjust it’s output to changing physical demands is also improved by grounding.
Everyone should be grounding themselves whenever possible. It’s that effective and important!
Eating foods that don’t cause your body to increase inflammation is very important. Things like:
excessive alcohol consumption
are all things that will increase inflammation. These things are best avoided, or at least consumed in moderation. Anti-inflammatory foods are those that contain antioxidants, omega 3 fats, flavinoids, and other nutrients that quite inflammation in your body.
Medication can help you calm your mind and make your nervous system more tranquil and calm, much like grounding. There are courses in meditation that you can take, and once you learn, you can use meditation to calm yourself wherever you are.
Another option is the use of relaxation tapes or CDs to alter your brainwave patterns and produce a more tranquil state of mind. These sound technologies are specifically engineered to have calming effects very similar to what you would get with meditation.
In fact, it can be said that in effect they “meditate you.” The advantage is that there is no learning curve with this technology. You just plug in the device and listen to the tape, Cd, or digitized sound file on a portable device like am Ipod.
Adaptogens were first studied and classified by the Soviet scientists to help their athletes and military deal with both physical and emotional stress. These herbs modulate (control) the stress response of the human body and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
The most famous of these is Rhodiola or Artic Root, but there are a number of others that perform similar functions. They are called adaptogens because they help the body adapt to stress and maintain what is called “homeostasis,” a state where the body’s is in balance and remaining healthy.
Stress and Cholesterol the Takeaway Message
Try not to think of the negative aspects of stress as simply raising cholesterol. That’s not what the real problem is. The issue is that your body was not meant to be in a continual state of preparation for fight or flight.
That state is only for emergencies, but if you are in that state too long or too often, your system becomes dangerously unbalanced and this can lead of chronic and life threatening diseases.
Your family, friends, and community connections are THE most important factor in avoiding heart disease or any other chronic disease. Happiness and laughter are the best medicine!