Stressed or depressed? Your Alzheimer’s risk may be 4 times higher

Stress presents a clear and present danger to the human body. In fact, plenty of research indicates it’s a prolific modern-day plague…

Stress changes our metabolism and leads to weight gain and diabetes.  It can cause cancer to spread and your biological clock to tick faster. And perhaps most well-known is how stress damages the heart.

But stress, especially when it’s chronic, can also play a number on your brain…

It can block the formation of new memories while impairing the brain’s ability to retrieve memories it’s already formed. This is backed up by research reported in the Journal of Neuroscience that found chronic stress leads to brain inflammation and memory loss.

Does that mean chronic stress may be linked to dementia or Alzheimer’s? It’s not topping any list right now of modifiable risk factors you can control to reduce your risk of these dreaded mind stealers, but that may soon change…

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Stress, depression and Alzheimer’s

Researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden used Region Stockholm’s administrative healthcare database to identify 44,447 patients between the ages of 18 and 65 with a diagnosis of chronic stress and/or depression between 2012 and 2013. They then followed these patients for eight years to see how many of them were later diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease.

Chronic stress is constant and persists over an extended period of time, as opposed to the kind of stress you might feel when someone cuts you off in traffic or when you’re selling your house and moving.

Results showed that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease was more than twice as high in patients with chronic stress and in patients with depression than it was in patients without either condition. And in patients with both chronic stress and depression, the risk was up to four times as high.

The risk of developing MCI was elevated about as much as the risk of Alzheimer’s.

“The risk is still very small and the causality is unknown,” says the study’s last author Dr. Axel C. Carlsson, docent at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet. “That said, the finding is important in that it enables us to improve preventative efforts and understand links with the other risk factors for dementia.”

Because Alzheimer’s rates are rising with our life expectancy, and many new diagnostic methods and early intervention therapies have been developed in recent years, it’s important to identify more risk factors for the disease.

“We show here that the diagnosis is more common in people who have suffered chronic stress or depression, but more studies will be required if we’re to demonstrate any causality there,” Carlsson says.

The researchers plan to continue their work and develop questionnaires and cognitive tests to help with the early identification of people at risk of dementia.

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Ways to fight stress and protect your brain

Luckily, there are ways of handling stress that have the added bonus of helping to protect against Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses.

Take yoga, for instance. Yoga’s emphasis on slow, deliberate movement has been shown to help build up the brain’s left prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for important mental functions like learning and memory. It’s been shown even to reverse memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s.

Meditation is another way to gain both peace of mind and better brain health. Research has shown that practicing meditation regularly can increase brain density, boost connections between neurons, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, provide clarity of thought and increase positive mood endorphins.

It’s easy to get started using meditation videos on YouTube, as well as meditation apps for your smartphone.

Practice emotional regulation. Optimistic people practice something known as antecedent-focused emotion regulation. They purposely change their focus, thus heading off negative emotions and stress before they begin. It cuts down on ruminating—which is linked with cognitive decline and brain aging.

Finally, there’s an amino acid that can both help you manage your stress and sharpen your focus and attention. Try taking 250 to 400 mg of L-theanine a day to help lower cortisol levels and give your brain a boost.

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Study indicates possible link between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s disease — Karolina Institutet

Stress, depression, and risk of dementia – a cohort study in the total population between 18 and 65 years old in Region Stockholm — Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy

Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed for first time — UCLA

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.