A new doctoral thesis by Sara K. Bengtsson, Department of Clinical Sciences, UmeÃ¥ University, Sweden, examines the reason why chronic stress can increase one’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Allopregnanolone, one of the steroids produced by a body under stress, can inhibit general brain activity. Bengtsson’s thesis shows that chronically elevated levels of allopregnanolone accelerated Alzheimer’s disease development in genetically altered mice models.
After a period of subjecting the mice to chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone allopregnanolone, tests showed high levels of beta-amyloids which corresponded to dysfunction among brain synapses in the mice. This did not occur after placebo treatment.
The effects were identified early in the disease development when the animals normally have intact memory function. Bengtsson’s thesis suggests that a similar acceleration of chronic stress related Alzheimer’s disease in humans could mean the difference between living independently at home and needing earlier professional care.
The idea of chronic stress as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease isn’t new. In 2011, scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich discovered that the increased release of stress hormones in rats leads to generation of abnormally phosphorylated tau protein in the brain and ultimately, memory loss. Other studies also support this theory.
Limiting chronic stress
Dr. Kathleen Hall, author, stress expert and founder of the Stress Institute and the Mindful Living Network says that stress is the "greatest threat to our lives." Hall says that if we slow down and learn some relaxation techniques, it absolutely will affect our health outcome.
According to a Huffington Post interview with Dr. Hall, older adults should consider "physical exercises, brain training exercises, meditation, and the development of a strong social network to ward off stress and create a calmer lifestyle."
Study results can sometimes make us non-scientists a little cross-eyed. Yet we need to pay attention to new findings.
In modern life, taking time to relax and reduce stress can be hard to do, and even embarrassing to admit to. Successful people are busy, busy, busy, right? The only acceptable response to "what are you doing?" seems to be reciting an endless list of activities we must complete.
The next time you find yourself in that situation, say, "I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, I’m relaxing." Then relax. Lower your chronic stress levels by following Dr. Hall’s suggestions and you may lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Science Daily. (2013, March 14) How Chronic Stress Accelerates Alzheimer’s Disease. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130314085049.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain%2Falzheimers+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News±-+Alzheimer%27s%29
Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. (2011, May 26) Stress may increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved from http://www.mpg.de/4326511/stress_alzheimer?filter_order=L
Gregoire, C. (2012, March 18) New Findings Show How Chronic Stress Contributes To Development Of Alzheimer’s Disease. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/18/chronic-stress-alzheimers-cause_n_2885419.html
Huffington Post ( 2013, March 12) Stress And Aging: 5 Ways Stress Affects Post-50s (And How To Create A Less Stressful Lifestyle). Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/12/stress-and-aging-10-ways-_n_2805468.html
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.