Many of us go through our days with stress in the back of our minds, and while we know it’s not necessarily healthy, many of us continue to endure it and push through it all. If this sounds like something you’re guilty of doing, it turns out that it could lead to memory loss and slight brain shrinkage by the ripe age of 50, according to a new study.
New research that was recently published in the journal Neurology shows that over time, high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, created a link to memory impairment and actual brain shrinkage. While we all know that stress does alter the human brain in some potentially serious and dangerous ways, there are things you can do to counter its worrisome effects.
“Higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, seem to predict brain function, brain size, and performance on cognitive tests,” study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri, a neurology professor at UT Health San Antonio told the news outlet, CNN. “We found memory loss and brain shrinkage in relatively young people long before any symptoms could be seen. It’s never too early to be mindful of reducing stress.” they continued.
During the huge study, over 2,000 otherwise healthy, middle-aged volunteers participated in the research. The results of the study quickly showed it’s authors that participants’ with higher blood cortisol levels didn’t perform as well on memory tests compared to those with normal levels of the hormone. The study also showed that stressed out participants also showed slight brain shrinkage, and these effects were also more pronounced among women participants, as apposed to male participants. The data from the research was reportedly adjusted to age, gender, and whether or not participants involved in the study were smokers. Over the course of the eight-year study, MRI scans were used to assess brain volume on the participants According to authors, each study subject throughout that time underwent a psychological exam testing their memory and thinking skills, and received blood tests that were also used to track cortisol levels.
“We have previously shown that changes of this magnitude do predict levels of mental dementia, even vascular brain injury, two or three decades later,” Dr. Seshadri reported on the matter.
While this information can be a lot to process for some individuals, authors have urged that it’s important to note that some stress in life is completely natural and a daily part of life. During the body’s normal stress reaction, cortisol is central to the fight or flight response, according to LiveScience. If you need to deal with a legitimate threat, cortisol’s function during a stressful event is key to staying safe. Once the threat passes, however, cortisol levels should drop again as your body regains homeostasis. When this doesn’t happen and cortisol levels stay high, then health problems can happen in the long-term.
The research results may cause worry in some individuals, however, there are a number of things you can do to counteract the potential harm that chronic stress can cause. According to professionals, self-care strategies can make a big difference in how resilient you are against not only day-to-day stress, but also more severe stress too. Regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating well can all majorly up your stress endurance. Professionals have also suggested that you can help reduce stress by mentally taking note on the stress-inducing people in your life and distancing yourself from them, as a way to make you stronger, or be more accepting of inconveniences that will pass, and sometimes all you need is to take some deep breaths, take care of yourself, and try not to stress about your pre-existing stress.