Modern medicine is enabling more people to live longer, even with chronic health conditions. However, as more people are aging, there is a concern that many are being diagnosed with some form of dementia. You could add this to your list of stressors, in addition to the many other things that weigh on your mind as you navigate today’s fast-paced society. But, that could actually increase your likelihood of developing dementia.
Researchers working on the Framingham Heart Study, published a piece in Neurology that sought to explore these two factors – stress and dementia. What they found is that stress in middle aged individuals is associated with smaller brain volume, as well as memory and cognition problems. Each of these symptoms has been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
The Framingham Heart Study was commissioned by Congress in 1948 and began with 5,209 subjects living in Framingham, Massachusetts. Participants volunteer for a medical history, physical examination and medical tests every 2 years. Originally intended to last 20 years, it has been repeatedly continued and now includes 3 generations. The longevity of this study has given a wealth of data to the medical research community. Much of the current “common knowledge” regarding heart disease is a result of this study.
For this study, data was gathered from over 2,000 third generation participants, who were dementia-free. The average age was 48.5 years. Subjects submitted to testing for memory, and cognitive function (e.g. memory, abstract reasoning, visual perception, attention, and executive function). The brain size and volume were assessed via MRI.
Additionally, subject’s early morning blood serum cortisol levels were measured. Cortisol is a hormone that tends to fluctuate throughout the day and increase with stress. Higher levels of cortisol were associated with a number of negative traits including:
- worse memory and visual perception
- lower total cerebral brain and occipital and frontal lobar gray matter volumes, especially in women
- multiple areas of microstructural changes in the brain.
Additionally, researchers noted that memory loss and brain shrinkage were observed in the tests even for those who had no other symptoms. Further, this was more pronounced in women than men.
Lead author Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui, M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School states: “Cortisol affects many different functions, so it is important to fully investigate how high levels of the hormone may affect the brain.” He feels this study shows that patients with higher cortisol levels should be counseled on stress management by their physicians and healthcare providers.
Study senior author Sudha Seshadri, M.D., professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio and founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases agrees. “This study adds to the prevailing wisdom that it’s never too early to be mindful of reducing stress.”
While genetics and some environmental risk factors are out of our control, diet, exercise, proper sleep and stress management are all factors that we CAN make a difference in. Whether your stress relief comes in the form of running, meditation, camping or crafting, take the time to allow your body and mind to rest. Your brain will thank you for it!
If you have questions about your lifestyle health risk factors, talk to your doctor of chiropractic at your next appointment. Trained in nutrition and wellness, your chiropractor can be a great source of information that will help you make changes to improve your health.
Additionally, their extensive knowledge of the musculoskeletal system allows them to help you select physical activities and exercises that you can enjoy and perform safely. You can find a TCA member chiropractor at https://www.tnchiro.com/find-a-doctor/.
“New study links stress to worse memory and reduced brain size in middle age.” October, 25/2018. https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/new-study-links-stress-to-worse-memory-and-reduced-brain-size-in-middle-age/ar-BBOSepJ?ocid=spartanntp
“Circulating cortisol and cognitive and structural brain measures.” Echouffo-Tcheugui JB, Conner SC, Himali JJ, Maillard P, DeCarli CS, Beiser AS, Vasan RS, Seshadri S. Neurology. Oct. 2018, 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006549; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006549
“Framingham Heart Study.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framingham_Heart_Study