Prolonged stress can shrink the brain

October 3rd, 2011 - 8:32 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 3 (IANS) Being stressed for lengthy periods can actually shrink the brain and cause dementia, new research says.

Types of stress linked to the condition include those suffered by people in loveless marriages, dead end jobs and post traumatic situations.

Chemicals called corticosteroids, released during prolonged stress, can kill off brain cells if concentrations remain high over long periods, says the study.

Corticosteroids help the body in “fight or flight” situations - suppressing the immune system and increasing the amount of sugar in the bloodstream.

The hippocampus, a brain part related to memory, is particularly susceptible - which leads doctors to believe stress may lead to dementia, the Daily Mail reports.

The discovery initially came about from doctors treating bosses of Wall Street firms for post traumatic stress after 9/11 attacks.

Brain scans showed the hippocampus of each of the executives had shrunk to the size of those of elderly people suffering from dementia.

“The sample size is too small to draw conclusions but the implication is that stress had affected the hippocampus,” said T. Byram Karasu, professor of psychiatry at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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