Mid-Life Stress a Dementia Risk Factor

When stressed, our blood pressure rises as our heart beats faster and levels of the hormone cortisol in the bloodstream also increase.

Experts believe once cortisol enters the brain it starts to kill off cells there, leading to Alzheimer’s.

Finnish researchers have found  that patients with high blood pressure and high cortisol levels were more than three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those without these conditions.

Professor Clive Holmes at the University of Southampton, who is leading the new research, said: “All of us go through stressful events. We are looking to understand how these may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s. Bereavement or a traumatic experience, possibly even moving home, is also a potential factor. This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with  psychological or drug-based treatments to fight the disease.

“We are looking at two aspects of stress relief – physical and psychological – and the body’s response to that experience.”

The study will monitor 140 people aged over 50 with mild memory problems over 18 months. They will be assessed for levels of stress and any movement from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. About 60 per cent of those with this impairment go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

The study is part of a £1.5million package of six grants being given by the charity to find the cause of the disease, a cure and a way to prevent it.

Alzheimer’s Society research manager Anne Corbett said: “The study will look at the role chronic stress plays in the progression from mild thinking and memory problems – mild cognitive impairment – to Alzheimer’s disease.

“We feel this is an important area of research that needs more attention. The results could offer clues to new treatments or better ways of managing the condition.

“It will also be valuable to understand how different ways of coping with stressful life events could influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Research has shown that stressed middle-aged women are 65 per cent more likely to develop dementia.

Scientists at Gothenberg University in Sweden found those who complained of repeated periods of stress, including irritation, anxiety or sleeping problems were significantly more likely to develop dementia in old age than those who led worry-free lives.

As part of the new study, researchers will track the volunteers’ levels of cortisol, released by the body in response to chronic stress. A number of illnesses are known to develop earlier or made worse by chronic stress including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Stress can lead to high blood pressure which increases the risk of a heart attack because the heart has to work harder to pump more blood around the body. Cholesterol is also linked to the condition as it is a by-product of cortisol.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Understanding the risk factors for Alzheimer’s could provide one piece of the puzzle we need to take us closer to a treatment that could stop the disease in its tracks.”




Via Daily Mail UK

Suffering stress for long periods of time can shrink the brain and even cause dementia, researchers have claimed.

Chemicals released by the body during prolonged stress are toxic to brain tissue, they found.

Types of stress linked to the condition include that suffered by those in loveless marriages, dead end jobs and post traumatic situations.

The research suggests chemicals – called corticosteroids – can kill off brain cells if concentrations remain high over long periods.

Corticosteroids help the body in ‘fight or flight’ situations – suppressing the immune system and increasing the amount of sugar in the bloodstream.

Research suggests chemicals ¿ called corticosteroids ¿ can kill off brain cells if concentrations remain high over long periods

Research suggests chemicals called corticosteroids can kill off brain cells if concentrations remain high

The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in the formation of memories, is particularly susceptible – which leads doctors to believe stress may lead to dementia.

The discovery initially came about from doctors treating bosses of Wall Street firms for post traumatic stress after the 9/11 attacks. Brain scans showed the executives had found that their hippocampuses had shrunk to the size of those of elderly people suffering dementia.

T Byram Karasu, professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said: ‘The sample size is too small to draw conclusions but the implication is that stress had affected the hippocampus.’

Further research by the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Centre published in the Journal of Neuroimaging also found that war veterans with post traumatic stress suffered a greater degree of brain loss.

Research last year found that mid-life stress can increase the risk of women developing Alzheimer’s. Those who reported repeated episodes of stress and anxiety in middle age were up to twice as likely to develop dementia as those who did not, a team of scientists found.


Via Medical News Today

A large, long-term study reveals that dealing with stress during middle age may trigger lasting physiological brain changes, increasing the risk of developing dementia later in life.

This finding comes from the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, Sweden, which started in 1968 and followed over 800 Swedish women for around 40 years. Results of the study were published online in the journal BMJ Open.

Researchers from the study looked at previous studies showing how stress can cause both structural and functional brain damage, as well as promote inflammation.

They say stress hormones can remain at high levels, long after a traumatic event has passed.

Previous studies looked at the effect of severe psychological stressors in adulthood, such as combat, natural disasters and the Holocaust, and they revealed that mental and physical health were affected decades later.

However, the researchers say that although mild psychosocial stressors are a regular part of life, the “long-term consequences of these more common stressors” have remained unclear.

Data over 40 years shows increased risks

Older lady with caregiver
Women who experienced certain stressors during middle age had a 21% increased risk for Alzheimer’s and a 15% increased risk for dementia, according to the study.

The women who were part of this recent study were all born in 1914, 1918, 1922 and 1930. They underwent neuropsychiatric tests and exams in 1968, and then again in 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000 and 2005.

In 1968, at the start of the study, the women were asked about the psychological impact of 18 common stressors, including divorce, widowhood, illness or death of a child, mental illness or alcoholism in a family member, unemployment and poor social support.

At each follow-up visit, researchers documented how many symptoms of distress – irritability, fear or sleep disturbances – each woman had experienced in the preceding 5 years.

One in four of the women had experienced a minimum of one stressful event at the start of the study. The most common stressor was mental illness in a close family member (sibling 32%, mother 27%, father 19%).

Between the monitoring period of 1968 and 2006, about one in five – 153 in total – of the women developed dementia, and 104 of them developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia was diagnosed at an average age of 79, and it took 29 years for it to develop, the researchers say.

The number of stressors the women reported in 1968 was associated with a 21% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a 15% increased risk of developing any kind of dementia, according to the study.

The researchers note that these findings remained the same, even after factoring in elements that could influence the results, such as a family history of mental health problems.

‘More research needed’

Though the study concludes the research does indeed show that common psychosocial stressors have long-term consequences, the authors say that more studies are needed to confirm the results.

They also recommend further study of interventions, such as stress management and behavioral therapy, to see whether these could be useful for people who have experienced the contributing stressors.

This study only looked at women, not men. A study on men is planned.


Via BBC News

Mid-life stress may increase a woman’s risk of developing dementia, according to researchers.

In a study of 800 Swedish women, those who had to cope with events such as divorce or bereavement were more likely to get Alzheimer’s decades later.

The more stressful events there were, the higher the dementia risk became, BMJ Open reports.

The study authors say stress hormones may be to blame, triggering harmful alterations in the brain.

Stress hormones can cause a number of changes in the body and affect things such as blood pressure and blood sugar control.

Current evidence suggest the best ways to reduce the risk of dementia are to eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise, not smoke, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check”Dr Simon Ridley Alzheimer’s Research UK

And they can remain at high levels many years after experiencing a traumatic event, Dr Lena Johansson and colleagues explain.

But they say more work is needed to confirm their findings and ascertain whether the same stress and dementia link might also occur in men.

Stress link

In the study, the women underwent a battery of tests and examinations when they were in either their late 30s, mid-40s or 50s, and then again at regular intervals over the next four decades.

At the start of the study, one in four women said they had experienced at least one stressful event, such as widowhood or unemployment.

A similar proportion had experienced at least two stressful events, while one in five had experienced at least three. The remaining women had either experienced more than this or none.

During follow-up, 425 of the women died and 153 developed dementia.

When the researchers looked back at the women’s history of mid-life stress, they found the link between stress and dementia risk.

Dr Johansson says future studies should look at whether stress management and behavioural therapy might help offset dementia.

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that from this study, it was hard to know whether stress contributed directly to the development of dementia, whether it was purely an indicator of another underlying risk factor in this population of women, or whether the link was due to an entirely different factor.

“We know that the risk factors for dementia are complex and our age, genetics and environment may all play a role. Current evidence suggests the best ways to reduce the risk of dementia are to eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise, not smoke, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.

“If you are feeling stressed or concerned about your health in general, we would recommend you talk this through with your GP.”

MORE on Stress and Dementia

Via DrMercola.com

Studies have found links between acute and/or chronic stress and a wide variety of health issues, including your brain function.

Most recently, an animal study reveals that higher levels of stress hormones can speed up short-term memory loss in older adults.1 The findings indicate that how your body responds to stress may be a factor that influences how your brain ages over time. As reported by Business Standard:2

“[R]ats with high levels of the stress hormone corticosterone showed structural changes in the brain and short-term memory deficits.

Robert Sapolsky, PhD said that older animals with higher levels of stress hormones in their blood have ‘older’ frontal cortexes than animals with less stress hormones, thus, stress may act as a pacemaker of aging in this key brain region.”

Previous research3 has also linked chronic stress with working memory impairment. Other recent research suggests that stress may even speed up the onset of more serious dementia known as Alzheimer’s disease, which currently afflicts about 5.4 million Americans, including one in eight people aged 65 and over.4

Fortunately, there’s compelling research showing that your brain has great plasticity and capacity for regeneration, which you control through your diet and lifestyle choices.

Based on the findings linking dementia with chronic stress, having effective tools to address stress can be an important part of Alzheimer’s prevention, not to mention achieving and maintaining optimal health in general.

The Effects of Stress on Memory Function and the Aging Brain

As reported by the University of Iowa,5 where the featured research was done, elevated levels of cortisol affect your memory by causing a gradual loss of synapses in your prefrontal cortex.

This is the brain region associated with short-term memory. Cortisol—a stress hormone—basically has a “corrosive” effect, over time wearing down the synapses responsible for memory storage and processing:

“Short-term increases in cortisol are critical for survival. They promote coping and help us respond to life’s challenges by making us more alert and able to think on our feet.

But abnormally high or prolonged spikes in cortisol—like what happens when we are dealing with long-term stress—can lead to negative consequences that numerous bodies of research have shown to include digestion problems, anxiety, weight gain, and high blood pressure.”

The researchers suggest that you may be able to protect your future memory function by normalizing your cortisol levels. Such intervention would be particularly beneficial for those who are at high risk for elevated cortisol, such as those who are depressed or are dealing with long-term stress following a traumatic event.

Stress May Trigger Clinical Onset of Alzheimer’s

Last year, Argentinean researchers presented evidence suggesting that stress may be a trigger for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that 72 percent—nearly three out of four—Alzheimer’s patients had experienced severe emotional stress during the two years preceding their diagnosis.

In the control group, only 26 percent, or one in four, had undergone major stress or grief. Most of the stresses encountered by the Alzheimer’s group involved:

  • Bereavement; death of a spouse, partner, or child
  • Violent experiences, such as assault or robbery
  • Car accidents
  • Financial problems, including “pension shock”
  • Diagnosis of a family member’s severe illness

According to lead author, Dr. Edgardo Reich:6

“Stress, according to our findings, is probably a trigger for initial symptoms of dementia. Though I rule out stress as monocausal in dementia, research is solidifying the evidence that stress can trigger a degenerative process in the brain and precipitate dysfunction in the neuroendocrine and immune system. It is an observational finding and does not imply direct causality. Further studies are needed to examine these mechanisms in detail.”

Stress Wrecks Your Health in Multiple Ways

Robert Sapolsky, PhD, quoted in reference to the featured study, has spent three decades investigating the role of stress on human health. In the 2008 National Geographic special, Killer Stress, he reveals how it affects your body and brain. By understanding how stress affects your biology, you are better equipped to combat it, and mitigate its detrimental impact.

To give you a quick overview, when you’re experiencing acute stress, your body releases stress hormones (such as cortisol) that prepare your body to either fight or flee the stressful event.

Your heart rate increases, your lungs take in more oxygen, your blood flow increases, and parts of your immune system become temporarily suppressed, which reduces your inflammatory response to pathogens and other foreign invaders.

When stress becomes chronic, your immune system becomes less sensitive to cortisol, and since inflammation is partly regulated by this hormone, this decreased sensitivity heightens the inflammatory response and allows inflammation to get out of control.7 Inflammation, in turn, is a hallmark of most diseases, from diabetes to heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

It’s not so surprising then that researchers have found links between stress and ailments ranging from physical pain8 and chronic inflammation,9 to stillbirths10 and poor gut health (which is critical to maintaining mental and physical health).

Researchers have even found that stress-induced anxiety can rewire your brain in such a way as to alter your sense of smell,11 transforming normally neutral odors into objectionable ones, and, as I will discuss in further detail in a later article featuring an upcoming interview with Greg Marsh, stress is also associated with a loss of visual acuity, and by correcting it, many can eliminate their glasses or contacts.

Conquer Your Stress with Energy Psychology

While it’s virtually impossible to eliminate all stress from your life, there are tools you can use that will allow your body to effectively compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that takes place when you’re stressed or anxious. Remember, some stress is necessary in life. In many ways it is like exercise, but like exercise, it needs to be addressed properly. My favorite tool for stress management is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It’s an energy psychology tool that can help reprogram your body’s reactions to everyday stress, thereby reducing your chances of developing adverse health effects.

EFT was developed in the 1990s by Gary Craig, a Stanford engineering graduate specializing in healing and self-improvement. It’s akin to acupuncture, which is based on the concept that a vital energy flows through your body along invisible pathways known as meridians. EFT stimulates different energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips, while simultaneously using custom-made verbal affirmations. This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist.12

By doing so, you reprogram the way your body responds to emotional stressors. Since these stressors are usually connected to physical problems, many people’s diseases and other symptoms can improve or disappear as well. For a demonstration, please see the following video featuring EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman, in which she discusses EFT for stress relief. For serious or deep-seated emotional problems, I strongly recommend seeing an experienced EFT therapist, as there is a significant art to the process that requires a high level of sophistication if serious problems are to be successfully treated.

Other Tips for Relieving Stress

Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and meditation are also important “release valves” that can help you manage your stress. Aromatherapy can also have anxiety-inhibiting effects, as can spending time in nature. In fact, so-called eco-therapy is becoming increasingly validated, with many proponents in the mental health field. Two recent articles in The Guardian13, 14 investigates how spending time in nature can “unlock a healthier mind” and promote a sense of inner peace and happiness. Oliver James writes:

“Ecotherapy encompasses a wide variety of interventions, whether they be prolonged periods in wilderness, gardening or individual therapy. They are all united by the concept that exposure to nature will improve wellbeing and healthy living…

[E]gocentricity… is often reduced by awareness of something much bigger than them, whether it be mountains, wide open plains or huge skies. The feeling that the client is the centre of the universe is called into question by the sheer scale and complexity of nature… The solitude and lack of pressure to satisfy the demands of peers and family lead to significant improvements in such self-attributes as esteem, efficacy and control.

There are many reports of clients of all ages having spiritual experiences as a result of exposure to wilderness… A heightened awareness of plants, animals and landscape leads them to ponder existence beyond themselves. The power of nature encourages a sense of higher powers and of connection both to self and to others.”

A winning combination is to exercise outdoors. Not only is exercise known to relieve stress and ease depression, it also directly benefits your physical brain. It encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by stimulating nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. Also, during exercise, nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning. For more stress-busting tips, please see my previous article, “13 Mind-Body Techniques That Can Help Ease Pain and Depression.” Clearly, stress is an inescapable part of life—it’s how you deal with it that will determine whether it will translate into health problems later on.

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