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Stress may be one of the key contributing factors in Alzheimer’s disease

Our modern lives are extremely stressful. We have to rush pretty much everywhere and are always haunted by a huge fear of getting late and being replaced. However, you may want to consider this – a new study showed that stress may be a major contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress accelerates development of the Alzheimer’s disease. Image credit: Doctor Jana via Wikimedia(CC BY 4.0)

As usual, this knowledge came through researching mice. Scientists from the University of Tasmania were studying the connection between elevated stress hormones and the development of amyloid plaques, which is one of the early signs the brain of Alzheimer’s disease. Analysing mice that had Alzheimer’s for 12 months revealed damage to a part of the brain which regulates stress. These mice also had elevated levels of stress hormones. Increasing stress for these mice (placing them in a new location) resulted in a quicker development of the disease – scientists noticed that stress hormones as well as more amyloid plaque in the brain were increased even more.

What does it mean? In short, stress may work as an accelerant for the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is not much to do about it, because people showing early signs of the disease get caught in a vicious cycle. Kimberley Stuart, PhD student involved in this study, said that early signs of Alzheimer’s disease can be associated with an “abnormal stress response, and that elevated stress hormones are linked with more extreme changes in the brain. This ‘vicious cycle’ between stress and amyloid plaques may cause what would typically be a non-noxious environment to become stressful and push the disease along”. Scientists are already thinking how this information could work to help them develop treatments, aimed at preventing dementia, caused by Alzheimer’s disease – that is a huge goal for medical science.

Dementia is one of the major causes of death in the world. Furthermore, people who suffer from dementia fall out of social life relatively early and their quality of life decreases significantly. Scientists are not sure about the sequence of events in the brain that lead to dementia, but lifestyle choices appear to be a major contributing factor. Now it looks like reducing stress levels is a way to go, especially in homes where people already live with dementia. Improving their living environment could help halting Alzheimer’s progression or at least slowing it down. Also, doctors could potentially introduce certain drugs, reducing the level of stress hormones.

Our minds are extremely important to us. That is why getting old is ugly. But we have to prepare for it physically and mentally – eat healthy, exercise, try avoiding stressful situations and distancing ourselves from activities that we know make us anxious and nervous.

 

Source: University of Tasmania

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