Help your heart. Relax

You’d have to be living in a cave not to know that high blood cholesterol values are linked to coronary attack. People with high cholesterol are concerned about what foods should be avoided and how drugs lower blood cholesterol.But ask anyone if — and how — stress affects cholesterol levels and they usually draw a blank. That response is ironic when stress is such a common component of our daily lives.

Stress studies
In 1968, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study carried out at the University of Michigan.

Researchers there examined 200 well-balanced married men who had lost their jobs because of a plant shutdown. Their blood cholesterol levels increased with the layoff, then decreased after they found new jobs. 

Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper is the founder of the Cooper Clinic and director of the Aerobics Center in Dallas. He reports in his book Controlling Cholesterol The Natural Way (Bantam, 1999) that there is a close association between stress and cholesterol values.

Exams affect cholesterol
He gives the example of the study of female Norwegian mecal students during their most important pre-clinical test. Blood studies were done immediately following the examination, 48 hours later and, finally, two months later. The result? Blood cholesterol values were 20 per cent higher on the day of the examination.

Given these examples, it’s not surprising that school examinations cause fluctuations in cholesterol values.

As tax season approaches, studies show that the cholesterol values of chartered accountants, who face heavy workloads and deadlines during that time of year, increase, then subside after the season is over.

No one immune
Cooper also reports an interesting experiment involving demolition training, a task only for those with nerves of steel — particularly when the task is underwater demolition.

The U.S. Navy recruited 52 young men for its program. The 27 who passed the course had stable cholesterol levels throughout the entire training.

But the 24 who failed to become demolition experts had significant increases in blood cholesterol during the final two weeks of the program.

Next page: Newborns, patients affected

Newborns, patients affected
What happens to cholesterol values in those who enter hospital for surgery? Indian researchers discovered that for even routine surgery, pre-operative cholesterol levels increased up to 56 per cent. I shudder to think about the levels of those who are about to undergo bypass surgery!

Researchers in Helsinki, Finland, found even newborn babies are not immune to the stress-cholesterol connection. They discovered an association between cholesterol values and the length of labour. Infants who endured the longest labour had the highest triglyceride levels and the lowest levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.

Many causes
Today, it’s small wonder so many people have increased blood cholesterol. After all, we experience stress daily in so many different ways and for so many different reasons.

A report from the Harvard Medical School shows how difficult it is for us to escape the stress-cholesterol connection. The authors point out noise pollution from cars, construction sites, neighbours’ stereos and dozens of other situations causes physiological reactions.

And if the source of the noise is particularly annoying, the result is even more serious — increased heart rate, blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

Learn to relax
My wife may be right when she says I’m killing myself by attending too many hockey games at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Like many people I enjoy hockey. But those responsible for the event can’t stand silence.

Years ago, it was possible to just sit, watch and enjoy the game. Now the music and noise nearly bounce you out of the building. I’d better start checking my blood cholesterol. And we had all better learn to relax.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is the pen name of Ken Walker, MD, who practices medicine in Toronto.