Stress Linked to Memory Loss, Smaller Brain in Middle Age

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According to a study published in Neurology, a medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, adults in their 40s and 50s who have higher than normal levels of cortisol — a hormone linked to stress — perform worse on memory and cognitive function tests and have smaller brain volumes than middle-aged adults with normal cortisol levels.

This research involved 2,231 participants (average age 48) in the Framingham Heart Study, 2,018 of whom underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to measure brain volume. Researchers at a number of U.S. universities worked on the study with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Cortisol levels, which normally fluctuate throughout the day, were measured between 7:30 and 9 a.m. daily — before study participants ate — throughout the study period.

In participants with elevated cortisol levels, the researchers observed memory loss and brain shrinkage before the onset of additional cognitive symptoms. Results of the study underscore the importance of reducing stress, according to the researchers.

Sourced from: Neurology