If you’re already feeling stressed out, sorry, but there’s one more thing you might need to worry about: A new study finds that stress may impair your memory now and quicken cognitive decline later in life.
And if that’s not stressful enough, stress might also be tied to a slight shrinking of the brain, according to the study, published in the journal Neurology.
In a study with more than 2,000 healthy, middle-age volunteers, doctors found that those with higher blood levels of the hormone cortisol — an indicator of stress — performed more poorly on memory tests and had a slightly shrunken brain volume compared to those with a normal level of the hormone. The effect was more evident among women in the study
The stress response is a natural part of life, as the body must react when confronted by danger or other threats. And cortisol is central to that stress response. During stressful moments, cortisol levels rise and, together with another hormone called adrenaline, signal the body into making a fight-or-flight response. Specifically, cortisol increases glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream; enhances your brain’s use of that glucose for energy; and suppresses bodily functions that aren’t immediately needed during an emergency, such as digestion, reproduction and growth.
Once the stressful event passes, cortisol levels should fall. This, however, the body may still perceive stress or, for reasons not well understood, retain high levels of cortisol. Or, in this modern life, one’s home or work life may cause daily stress.
Persistently higher cortisol levels can cause damage to the heart and skin. So, the idea that stress and higher cortisol levels could also affect memory and brain function is not surprising.
In the study mentioned above, 2,231 people with an average age of 49 who were free of dementia, each participant had a psychological exam and assessments for memory and thinking skills, and a series of MRI brain scans to measure brain volume.
The researchers found that people with high levels of cortisol had lower scores on tests of memory and thinking skills than those with normal levels of cortisol…all before symptoms started to show. High cortisol was also linked to lower total brain volume.
it’s important to find ways to reduce stress. whether it’s accomplished through better sleep, exercise, relaxation techniques, or asking one’s doctor about cortisol-reducing medication, or by burning a certain green leaf that’s legal in Canada now.
So, don’t stress it!