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Stress Management Health Center

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Coping With Stress Helps Cholesterol

Good Coping Skills May Raise 'Good' Cholesterol Levels

Coping Skills Aid HDL Cholesterol continued...

"People who coped well had higher levels of HDL than people who didn't cope well," she says.

She cannot cite an exact improvement in HDL or an average HDL level among those who coped well. "This is simply a correlational study," she says, finding an association between good coping skills and better HDL levels.

The amount of stress you deal with isn't as important, they also found, as how you deal with it. "Stress doesn't matter nearly as much as how you cope with it," she says.

The more hostile the men were, the worse the LDL and triglyceride levels, the researchers also found.

While the study included only men, Aldwin says she would think the same findings would apply to women.

Perspective: Stress and Cholesterol

It's been known for years, Aldwin says, that stress affects LDL and makes it rise.

"Stress raises total cholesterol levels in general and it raises LDL levels," she says.

The results "are consistent" with research by Peter Vitaliano, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, psychology, and health services at the University of Washington in Seattle. The new study, Vitaliano says, "adds to the body of research on how hostility relates to health, in particular heart disease."

Other research, he says, also found that "avoidance" coping, such as blaming oneself, is unhealthy and related to hostility and anger. "Both of those are related to blood pressure elevation and lower HDL," he says.

"Hostility is also associated with higher blood glucose levels in healthy people and in diabetics," he says, "and that raises the risk of heart disease."

Hostile people, he says, "often use emotion-focused coping," he says. "They use emotions like anger and avoidance instead of problem solving."

Ideally, total cholesterol levels should be below 200 mg/dL, according to the American Heart Association. HDL levels 60 mg/dL and above are heart-protective, while levels below 40 in men and below 50 in women are considered low and a risk factor for heart disease. LDL below 100 mg/dL is optimal, and below 130 is "near or above optimal." Triglycerides should be below 150 mg/dL.

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