Anxiety Has A Little-Known Effect On Your High Cholesterol

When you're under stress, this triggers what's known as the flight-or-fight response, causing the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help you cope with any threats — real or perceived — in your environment. These hormones cause your breathing to speed up and your heart to beat faster, preparing you to run away or fight your attacker, if need be. 

However, when threats can't be resolved, such as when you have worries about losing your job, this can turn into chronic stress. Chronic stress can create a whole host of health problems, including mental health issues like depression and anxiety and physical problems like headaches, digestive issues, pain, poor sleep, weight gain, problems with memory and focus, and cardiovascular disease.

According to, several studies have shown a relationship between stress and cholesterol levels. Stress and the resulting anxiety can increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol due to its association with cardiovascular disease.

How stress and anxiety might cause high cholesterol

WebMD explains that it's not short-term stress and anxiety that puts our heart health at risk. In fact, this type of stress can help us overcome our challenges in life. Chronic stress, however, causes our stress hormones to remain high, placing a strain on our bodies including our hearts.

High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cause our blood cholesterol levels to shoot up, especially the LDL variety. Over time, this type of cholesterol can build up our arteries, leading to them becoming hard and clogged with dangerous plaques.

Additionally, stress can create inflammation, which, in turn, reduces our high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is considered to be the "good" type. HDL helps shuttle LDL out of the body.

WebMD also notes that stress can lead many people to consume an unhealthy diet, drink more, smoke, or avoid exercise further increasing their tendency toward high cholesterol.

It's unlikely that high cholesterol is actually causing anxiety

HealthMatch states that it's also possible that the association works in the opposite direction with high cholesterol levels causing anxiety. For example, they point to a 2024 rat study in Behavioral and Brain Functions. In this study, the researchers raised the animals' cholesterol levels through diet. The rats were then observed to develop anxiety-related behaviors, which essentially means that having high cholesterol seemed to cause them to develop anxiety. However, since this study was done on animals, it's not possible to say whether it would apply to humans.

Beverly Hills Heart and Vascular Center writes, however, that it's unlikely that high cholesterol causes anxiety in humans. Studies indicate that probably the opposite is true: Anxiety is responsible for causing high cholesterol. They advise that eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and spending time with your family and friends may provide stress relief, helping to lower your cholesterol. You may also want to talk with a doctor if you have abnormal cholesterol levels.