Women and Stress: Does Stress Prematurely Age Our Brains

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Stress is the feeling you get when you don’t think you have the tools, resources or emotional fortitude to get through your current situation. For men, stress often brings on the “fight or flight” response and they can either react aggressively or turn away from the situation altogether, choosing instead to go out with friends or spend the day on the golf course. Women sometimes take on the role of nurturer to deal with it or turning to friends to talk it out. Women usually experience more physical symptoms of stress, such as eating too much or not eating enough, headaches, feeling tired, trouble sleeping, upset stomach or just general body aches.

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    We all have stress in our lives, and in small increments, stress can be good. It can motivate you to solve a problem or give you the energy  to accomplish a task. But for many women, stress is part of their everyday lives. In an article on ABCNews, Dr. Sherita Hill Golden of the John Hopkins University  School of Medicine explains that “women are actually not articulating stress to their physicians because they’re thinking this is just a normal way of functioning.” [1]

    Long-term stress can increase a woman’s chance of developing diabetes, heart disease and thinning of the bones. It can lead to depression, obesity or chronic feelings of fatigue.


    Stress and the Brain


    A new study,completed by Mehmet Somel at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at how stress impacts the aging of the brain. Because women, on average, live longer than men, the researchers thought that women’s brains would age more slowly. But what they found was the opposite.


    Scientists looked at the genes within four different areas of the brain and, in the superior frontal gyrus, which is associated with self-awareness, they found 667 genes which reacted differently in men and women. Of those, 98 percent showed more accelerated again in women. These genes may contribute to degenerative diseases and cognitive decline.


    The researchers aren’t sure what causes this premature or accelerated aging, but hypothesize that it may have something to do with stress noting that “A higher stress load could be driving the female brain toward faster aging-related decline.” [2]  A previous study, using monkeys, showed that stress could make similar changes in the brain.




    “Stress and Your Health Fact Sheet,” Updated 2010, Mar 17, Reviewed by Catherina Roca, M.D., National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health


    [1] “Women and Stress: Could Your Hectic Life Be Killing You?” 2012, Mar 6, Matthew Rosenbaum, ABCNews.com


    “Women’s Brains May Age Prematurely, Possibly Because of Stress, 2012, July 30, Michael Slezak, Washington Post

Published On: September 24, 2012