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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Alzheimer’s and Stress – is There a Link?

Over the past few years, doctors have been finding increasing evidence linking Alzheimer’s and stress. While age is still considered to be the primary risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, several important studies have identified stress as another main cause to be aware of.

Studies Linking Alzheimer’s and Stress

A recent study conducted at UC Irvine evaluated the effects of stress on the brains of mice. Researchers subjected mice to continuous stress similar to that experienced by humans in their daily lives.

The increased stress caused these mice to produce higher levels of the proteins beta-amyloid and tau in their brains. These proteins make up the plaques and tangles found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

This phenomenon creates a dangerous cycle. High levels of beta-amyloid and tau in the brain cause an increase in the production of stress hormones, which in turn leads to the production of more beta-amyloid and tau in the brain. This sequence drastically speeds up the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

This study has many implications for Alzheimer’s patients. Most importantly, doctors need to be careful when prescribing drugs to elderly people. Many commonly prescribed drugs for the elderly contain glucocorticoids, which produce similar effects to stress hormones. As a result, these drugs could potentially contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study involving humans has backed up the discoveries made at UC Irvine. A long-term study found that people who were more prone to stress were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people with lower stress levels. Furthermore, these people were ten times as likely to exhibit deteriorated memory.

These studies strongly indicate that the regions of the brain responsible for regulating stress are also our brain’s memory centers. This discovery can be very helpful to doctors as they work towards finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress Management and Alzheimer’s Prevention

Based on the findings of these studies, it has become clear that stress management is an important component to Alzheimer’s prevention.

Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., President and Medical Director of the non-profit Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, has been studying Alzheimer’s disease since the early 1990’s. He has determined that the best method of prevention is to adopt healthy lifestyle practices at an early age.

Dr. Dharma and the ARPF promote stress management as an important tool for preventing Alzheimer’s. They also recommend other lifestyle practices, such as proper diet, physical exercise, and mental exercise. Additionally, using meditation, hypnosis, deep breathing, massage, or yoga can help reduce stress in your life.

The link between Alzheimer’s and stress is becoming clearer by the day. The sooner you take steps to lower the stress in your life, the more likely you are to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s down the road.

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