Monday, November 12, 2012

Chronic Stress Promotes Protein Brain Tangles and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by an initial loss of short term memory and the ability to form rational and permanent thoughts. Protein tangles known as tau aggregates strangle neural synapses, blocking the vital flow of neurotransmitter and electrical signals necessary to form memories and personality. Once considered a disease of the aging, this form of dementia is increasing at a startling rate in younger individuals, largely due to a processed and refined food diet, environmental factors and long-term chronic stress.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have published the result of a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explaining the mechanism behind continual exposure to stressors so common in our rapid-paced lifestyle, and the unnatural accumulation of insoluble tau protein aggregates in brain tissue. They explain that neurofibrillary tangles are one of the physical hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and have been shown to contribute to disease progression in people under chronic stress conditions during the course of past studies.
Chronic Stress is Positively Linked to Physical Brain Changes Leading to Alzheimer’s Dementia
The study team, using a mouse-based model, noted
we found that repeated episodes of emotional stress, which has been demonstrated to be comparable to what humans might experience in ordinary life, resulted in the phosphorylation and altered solubility of tau proteins in neurons… these events are critical in the development of NFT pathology in Alzheimer's disease.” Researchers determined that the effect was most pronounced in the hippocampus of the brain, an area linked to the formation, organization and storage of memories.
The scientists are quick to note that the type of stress that is associated with the development of tangles in the brain is not acute stress, defined as a single, passing episode. They determined that chronic, long term stress that never ceases is far more threatening to the brain and promotes tau protein aggregates to accumulate. Acute stress is actually considered useful for brain plasticity and helps to facilitate learning.
Engage in Stress Reduction Techniques to Reduce Stress and Disease Risk
Chronic stress continually stimulates and activates stress pathways in the brain that lead to pathological alteration of stress circuitry in the brain. The researchers describe chronic stress as too much of a good thing gone bad. Lead study author, Dr. Robert Rissman
commented on their findings “As people age, perhaps their neuronal circuits do too, becoming less robust and perhaps less capable of completely rebounding from the effects of stress.”
Certainly we cannot entirely eliminate stress from our daily lives, and the results of this study conclude that small amounts of acute stress are important to maintain brain plasticity and for the formation of new memories. The problem arises when the level of stress never abates, and our brain is unable to recover from the massive amount of new stimuli we experience from chronic stress. Reduce your stress level to a minimum, as this will provide yet another crucial lifestyle modification that can help prevent chronic illness and ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

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