Exposure to Chronic Stress Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, Research Shows
A new study has linked exposure to chronic stress with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease — suggesting interventions to manage stress levels earlier in life could help reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases later.
Caused by the degeneration and death of brain cells, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia; that is, cognitive decline severe enough to interfere with one’s day-to-day life.
Published in Biological Reviews, the study found that in combination with genetic factors, chronic stress may play an important role in leading to Alzheimer’s. The research is based on an analysis of previous studies that explored environmental and genetic factors that influence the body’s stress response pathway and contribute to neuroinflammation — described by the researchers as a “key driver of neurodegeneration.”
Exposure to chronic stress “leads to a chronic disruption of normal brain processes, increasing the risk of subsequent neurodegeneration and ultimately dementia,” said David Groth, a molecular geneticist from Curtin University, Australia, who co-authored the study.
“There is an intimate interplay between exposure to chronic stress and pathways influencing the body’s reaction to such stress… Genetic variations within these pathways can influence the way the brain’s immune system behaves leading to a dysfunctional response,” Groth explained further.
Related on The Swaddle:
Previous research, too, has found that consistently elevated levels of cortisol — the “primary stress hormone” — may adversely affect one’s cognitive abilities, leading to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Moreover, Alzheimer’s disease has been shown to affect more women than men. With other studies having shown that women are more stressed than men, this could be further suggestive of the link between stress and Alzheimer’s.
Besides adding to the existing body of research linking stress and Alzheimer’s disease, the present study has also provided an impetus for greater research into possible ways to reduce the risk of the disease by targeting the body’s stress response, the researchers believe.
“Identifying… the association between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as identifying genetic factors that could contribute to the susceptibility of this association, may allow for new therapeutic targets to be identified as well as strategies targeting chronic stress management to be implemented, the study notes.