How does stress affect the brain?

This research looks at the impact stress has on the brain in physiological and cognitive terms. The results published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology suggest stress negatively affects memory and thinking skills | via EurekAlert

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A study published in the October 24, 2018 issue of Neurology has found that middle-aged people with high levels of a hormone called cortisol in their blood have impaired memory when compared to those with average levels of the hormone. People with high levels of the hormone also had lower brain volume than those with regular cortisol levels.

Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, helps the body respond to stress. It can also help reduce inflammation, control blood sugar and blood pressure, regulate metabolism and help with immune response. High cortisol levels can be caused by stress, medical conditions or medications.

In this study, researchers identified 2,231 people with an average age of 49 who were free of dementia. At the beginning of the study, each participant had a psychological exam and assessments for memory and thinking skills. Their memory and thinking skills were tested again an average of eight years later. Researchers also measured cortisol levels in the blood and then divided participants into low, middle and high groups. A total of 2,018 participants also had an MRI brain scan to measure brain volume.

After adjusting for age, sex, smoking, and body mass index, 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. High cortisol was also linked to lower total brain volume.

Full reference: Echouffo-Tcheugui , J. B. et al. | Circulating cortisol and cognitive and structural brain measures | Neurology | First published October 24, 2018

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