Don't stress yourself out! Your brain shrinks (as early as 40 years old). I study

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Elia Tabuenca García

Stress affects our cognitive and memory functions from a young age.

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If you live a very stressful life, you may have memory loss and a severe reduction in brain size before you turn 50.

Lots of stress and such a small brain, as well as no longer having memory: if we lead a particularly nerve-wracking life, our cognitive and mnemotic functions will be affected even at a very young age.

This is the verdict that comes from a new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston, who in an analysis of about 2 individuals found memory loss and brain twitching in relatively young people long before everyone could be seen. symptoms.

Conclusion? “It's never too early to be aware of reducing stress,” the scholars comment, but how is it possible that stress affects brain size and memory?
Cortisol is to blame: Middle-aged people with high levels of this hormone in their blood have impaired memory compared to those who report average levels of the same hormone, even before they start showing symptoms of memory loss.

Specifically, the same people with high levels of cortisol they also had a smaller brain volume than other people. Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, helps the body respond to stress and is therefore often called the "stress hormone". It can also help reduce inflammation, control blood sugar and blood pressure, regulate metabolism, and help with the immune response. High cortisol levels can be caused by stress, disease, or medications.

A systematic review

Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones in our body, best known for its role in our "flight or fight" instinct. When we are stressed and alert, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol. The hormone therefore works by closing various bodily functions that could hinder survival, in short, it helps the body to respond better to stress.

Once the crisis is over, cortisol levels should drop and the body system should return to normal. But if the alarm button is held down, the body can continue to malfunction, causing anxiety, depression, heart disease, headaches, weight gain, sleep problems and, of course, memory and concentration problems. The brain is particularly vulnerable, experts say, due to all the nutrients it needs to function optimally.

“The brain is a very hungry organ,” explains Keith Fargo, who directs science programs and assistance for the Alzheimer's Association. It requires a huge amount of nutrients and oxygen to keep it healthy and functioning properly, so when the body needs those resources to deal with stress, there are less to make the brain function better. "

To arrive at these conclusions, the researchers identified 2.231 people with an average age of 49 without dementia. At the start of the study, each participant was assessed psychologically, memory and thinking skills, which were then tested again eight years later. By measuring cortisol levels in the blood, it was found that people with high values ​​had lower scores on memory and thinking skills than others. Those with high cortisol had an average total brain volume of 88,5% compared with 88,7% of the others.

Previous studies had already found a relationship between cortisol and the risk of dementia, but the focus has now focused primarily on the elderly and the memory area of ​​the brain, called the hippocampus. What is surprising, they explain, was the discovery of the effects of cortisol on the structure of the brain.

Ultimately, therefore, stress not only is not good for the heart and in general makes us lead a less peaceful life, but it also affects our ability to better manage the various situations to be faced with the right intuitions.

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Germana Carillo

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