Scientists are reporting fresh evidence of the health benefits of reducing anxiety and tension. A new study has found chronic stress triggers changes in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are based on studies of mice led by Baylor College of Medicine researchers.
They found repeated stress triggers the production and accumulation of protein structures in the brain cells of mice that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lead researcher Robert A. Rissman said the findings may explain why clinical studies have found a strong link between people prone to stress and development of Alzheimer's.
"In the mouse models, 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 [brain cell changes]," Rissman said. "These events are critical in the development of … Alzheimer's disease."
The changes were most pronounced in a region of the brain linked to the formation, organization and storage of memories.
Unlike chronic, long-term stress, Rissman said the study showed a single, passing episode does not result in lasting, debilitating changes in the brain.
"Acute stress may be useful for brain plasticity and helping to facilitate learning,” he added. “Chronic stress and continuous activation of stress pathways may lead to pathological changes in stress circuitry. It may be too much of a good thing."