HealthZette

Chronic Stress Can Be Associated with a ‘Smaller’ Brain

New study reveals the effects of cortisol — here's what everyone feeling any pressure for any period of time needs to know

Almost 75 percent of adults experience some physical symptoms of stress every month, according to the American Psychological Association.

And while upwards of 60 percent of adults have attempted to reduce their stress levels, less than 40 percent of that group have found success with that.

Past research has shown that chronic stress can lead to long-term alterations in the brain — resulting in anxiety and depression.

In addition to the negative emotions that chronic stress can produce, it can also harm the liver, the digestive system, and the nervous system.

If that’s not already enough — chronic stress is shown to increase the chances of hypertension and cardiovascular disease as well.

A new study published in the journal Neurology digs deeper into the exact effects of the stress hormone — cortisol — on the brain itself.

The research demonstrates that chronic stress, and the increased cortisol that comes with it, can actually be associated with a smaller brain and with reduced memory function.

“We show that even among young and middle-aged adults at an average age of 48 years, highest cortisol levels in the top 30 percent were associated with smaller total brain volumes, changes in the brain white matter, and poorer performance on some memory and thinking tasks,” commented the study author, Dr. Sudha Seshadri, in a statement about the research.

Also the director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, Seshadri made it clear that while the research found a strong correlation between high cortisol levels and smaller brain volume, this correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

The authors of the study expanded on the effects of the deviation of white matter.

“White matter integrity is significantly associated with processing speed, which in turn is strongly associated with higher general cognitive ability,” they said.

These effects are only seen in adults who have experienced years and years of continued mental pressure.

So the “disruption of information transfer by white matter damage could partially explain the impairments to cognitive ability associated with higher cortisol concentrations observed in our study.”

Fortunately, these effects are only seen in adults who have experienced years and years of continued mental pressure.

And there are many ways to reduce the harmful stress in one’s life — and the accompanying negative emotions.

Related: Health Horror: If You Don’t Take Time Off, You’re Making Trouble for Yourself

The important thing is for people to remain mindful of any physical and mental symptoms they may be experiencing — and to educate themselves as to how and when to take preventative and combative action.

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