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Your Brain On Stress

Chronic stress triggers the formation of insoluble tau protein aggregates in the brain cells of mice. New research from the lead author, Dr. Robert Rissman, the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, sees this as an explanation for the high correlation between chronic stress and an aging population whose brains are not plastic enough to cope with the inflammation of stress the way a younger brain can – this means Alzheimer’s Disease.

In exposing mice to comparable emotional chronic stress experienced by humans, Rissman found an altered solubility in tau proteins in neurons, which is a precursor to Alzheimer’s. In addition, this disease pathology was first observed in the hippocampus where memories are organized and stored. When patients are evaluated for Alzheimer’s, “the hippocampus is typically the first region of the brain affected by tau pathology and the hardest-hit, with substantial cell death and shrinkage.”

The study clarifies the difference between acute and chronic stress. Acute stress does not do any lasting damage to brain cells and may actually keep cells “on their toes” and more flexible. However, chronic stress because of its duration, day in day out, unleashes an inflammatory response which triggers brain cell pathology especially in older brains. Chronic stress erodes happiness and depletes energy. I have personally experienced and observed chronic stress in caregivers, especially Alzheimer’s caregivers.
Don’t let this research stress you out. Instead, see it as a call to action. Along with exercise, a balanced meal plan and intellectual stimulation, stress management coping strategies should be part of a healthy living program – especially relevant in light of this new research in Alzheimer’s prevention.

Here are 5 coping tips:

For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show



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