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Coping With Stress Helps Cholesterol

The better you cope with stress, the better your
"good" cholesterol level is likely to be, according to a new study.

"We know that stress and hostility affect cholesterol," says
researcher Carolyn M. Aldwin, PhD, professor and chairwoman of the department
of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University
inB Corvallis. There has been less research, however, on how coping skills
can counteract the effects of stress, she says.

Good coping skills were associated with better levels of the so-called
"good" cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in her study.

The study was released at the 115th annual convention of the American
Psychological Association in San Francisco.

Stress and Cholesterol

Aldwin and her colleagues evaluated data from 716 men who participated in
the Normative Aging Study. The researchers looked at the interplay of
hostility, stress, coping, and the participants' cholesterol levels.

The average age of the participants was 65; most were white. They were
evenly split between white-collar and blue-collar occupations.

The researchers assessed the men's hostility and asked them to describe
their most stressful problem in the past week.

The men also completed a questionnaire that asked them to rate how often
they used 26 different coping strategies when dealing with a stressful problem
in the past month.B Some were unhealthy strategies, such as socially
isolating themselves when under stress or blaming themselves for the stress.
Other strategies were healthy, such as making a plan of action to deal with the
problem causing the stress.

The more hostile the men were, the more likely they were to look at problems
as stressful. They were also more apt to use unhealthy coping skills to deal
with that stress.

After fasting overnight, the men's blood was tested for HDL cholesterol,
low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, and
triglycerides.

Coping Skills Aid HDL Cholesterol

The results were a surprise, Aldwin tells WebMD. "What we were really
expecting is that coping would mitigate the effects of stress on LDL," she
says. But the researchers found that the good coping skills only helped the
protective effect of the "good" HDL cholesterol.

"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.B

"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 inB 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
hear 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.

By Kathleen Doheny
Reviewed by Louise Chang
B)2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

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