March 01, 2006
Higher Stress Hormone Correlated With Shrinkage In Brain Region

Stress hormones probably accelerate brain aging.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have identified for the first time a certain area of the brain which can shrink in old age and cause depression and Alzheimer's disease. The scientists believe the shrinkage may be caused by high levels of stress hormones.

They examined the size of a special region of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, that might be involved in controlling stress hormones. In a significant discovery, scientists found that people with a smaller anterior cingulate cortex had higher levels of stress hormones.

Doctors analysed stress hormone levels and brain volume in two groups of ten healthy male volunteers aged 65-70 for the study. Lead author Dr Alasdair MacLullich said: "Doctors have known for several years that ageing, and certain diseases common in ageing like Alzheimer's disease and depression, can be associated with shrinkage of the brain, but this is the first time we have been able to show that increased levels of stress hormones may cause shrinkage of this critical area of the brain.

"This is an important new finding because the anterior cingulate cortex shows damage in ageing, depression, and Alzheimer's disease, and stress hormones are often high in these conditions. The discovery deepens doctors' understand of ageing, depression and Alzheimer's diseases, and will help in the development of treatments based on reducing high levels of stress hormones."

The abstract for this research indicates they were looking at cortisol as the stress hormone.

Of course there's the possibility that the cortisol is a consequence of the shrunken anterior cingulate cortex or they are both a consequence of a third factor and that other factor is causing the brain shrinkage without cortisol in the chain of causes and effects. But my guess is the cortisol is causing accelerated brain aging.

If you want to live longer avoid a lifestyle and occupation that causes you to experience chronic stress. Anyone know of good research on environmental factors that relieve or cause stress?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 March 01 10:07 PM  Brain Aging

rsilvetz said at March 2, 2006 1:11 AM:

Unrealistic to avoid stress.

Learn to manage it, reduce the fright/flight impulses.

And take upto 5gr of vitamin C across the day. And take L-theanine. Both will suppress cortisol spikes.

Sumyung Guy said at March 2, 2006 8:06 AM:

Oh thanks, now I'm going to worry that all my worrying is making my brain shrink! And as my brain shrinks and things at work get harder to do, then I'll just worry more! It's a vicious cycle!


On a more serious note, this points out the importance of taking a step back every so often to relax. You worry all the time, you just hurt yourself.

James Bowery said at March 2, 2006 3:59 PM:

The biggest source of stress is cognitive overload so it is particularly tragic that this results in lowered cognitive function. Its as though there are a bunch of slaves who are unable to carry the loads they're being burdened with and rather than getting them to work with loads that will strengthen them through exercise, the unwise slave masters are crushing the bones of their slaves.

Gerard Eichner said at March 10, 2006 2:15 AM:

Mindfulness and meditative practice (autogenic training will do) are practical and handy tools to release the cognitive burden; add a double dose of humour and exercise your body( in any pleasant way you can think of...) and you don't generally need any medication. Separate emotional distress from the factual problem: deal with both asking yourself : how appropriate is this reaction, then decide on a solution to your problem.

Diane H. said at April 28, 2006 3:56 AM:

My situation may be anecdotal but makes a strong case for stress levels leading to shrinkage. My last MRI 6 years ago was normal. Now it has the appearance of someone 40 years older, AKA cerebral shrinkage. My doctors are sending me for nueropsych testing. Within the last 5 years, I have suffered almost unendurable levels of stress. For the last 3 years I have been bedbound. I have had a chronic disabling illness for 16 years, but had good days. However, I was the victim of an invasive crime, leaving me with PTSD and severe depression. I already had an abusive family environment, but it became worse. Actually, I am praying it is stress and not something more profound (early Alzhiemers, etc.). Newly released research, it is postulated by the CDC that CFS patients may not have the adaptive ability that enables "normal" people to work through severe times of crisis while keeping up a healthy immune response. While true that I have been an anxious person for a lifetime, these last 5 years have been Hell. Worse than in Hell. At least in Hell you are not carrying around your mortal, diseased, decrepit remains.

Dr. Ernesto F. Sosa said at April 21, 2008 11:38 AM:

Ha Koo Na Ma Ta Ta

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