Stress and Alzheimer’s: Increased Risk

April 30, 2013
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Stress-induced hormones produced by the brain can increase an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s in individuals already suffering from the disease. 

Stress-induced hormones produced by the brain can increase an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s in individuals already suffering from the disease. 

alzheimer's stressThis study is the first to discover the precise mechanism that causes stress-induced Alzheimer’s disease.  When the brain is stressed, it produces steroids that can inhibit general brain activity. One such steroid is allopregnanolon. 

A research team conducted a laboratory experiment on mice genetically predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s disease. The mice were treated chronically with elevated allopregnanolone levels, comparable to those caused by mild stress. After a period of no steroid treatment, the mice were tested for learning and memory.

The mice with elevated levels of the stress steroid experienced impaired memory and learning in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s development, when they normally would not display these symptoms. The brains of the mice also displayed higher levels of beta-amyloids, proteins that form plaques between nerve cells in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. 

The researchers noted that a similar acceleration of Alzheimer’s disease in humans due to chronic stress could mean the difference between living independently and requiring professional care.