Experts find a link between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s

Jun 23, 2021
Turns out, stress and health are a lot more connected than you'd think. Source: Getty

Most people have probably been told at some point that they need to “stress less”. Well, according to new research, you should.

A study published in Biological Reviews has found that too much stress in your life can ultimately lead to Alzheimer’s disease. For the study, the team reviewed research on environmental and genetic factors that can influence the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis) — a pathway involved in chronic psychological stress, which may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

According to senior author David Groth, genetic factors within this and other pathways can influence how the brain’s immune system behaves and can lead to a dysfunctional response. In the brain, this leads to a chronic disruption of normal brain processes, “increasing the risk of subsequent neuro-degeneration and ultimately dementia”.

“What we know is that chronic stress does affect many biological pathways within our body,” he says. “There is an intimate interplay between exposure to chronic stress and pathways influencing the body’s reaction to such stress.”

Some of the most common signs of chronic stress include rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure, feeling overwhelmed, fatigue, difficult sleeping, poor problem-solving and feelings of helplessness.

The new findings come about a month after British researchers developed a smell test that could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early, offering those living with the debilitating condition the opportunity to get on top of treatment plans before symptoms worsen.

While smell tests are nothing new, they’re expensive, not widely available, and take too long to administer in routine healthcare settings. So, to address this problem, researchers from the Queen Mary University of London set out to develop an affordable and easy-to-access smell-testing kit.

The smell-testing kit in question consists of capsules of aromatic oils and two strips of single-sided tape. The doctor administering the test provides a score based on a person’s ability to recognise these smells. The score then determines whether the patient is experiencing a loss of smell, which could point to something more concerning, such as Alzheimer’s. It’s quite common for people who develop the disease to experience loss of smell years before they are formally diagnosed and other more obvious symptoms surface.

Alzheimer’s disease affects up to 70 per cent of all people with dementia. Dementia was the second leading cause of death (behind coronary heart disease) in 2018 in Australia, and is expected to affect between 550,000 to 590,000 people by 2030.

For more information on dementia, including the signs and symptoms to look out for, read this.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Do you know someone with Alzheimer's disease?

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