Can Stress Lead to Earlier Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is becoming a very frightening reality for many families who are watching their loved ones slip away due to memory loss. Every day, scientists continue to try and learn more about this disease in order to develop new medications or strategies for preventing, delaying, or treating this unfortunate disease. As we get older, it becomes even more terrifying as we begin to wonder if our life will be taken over by Alzheimer’s disease. We wonder: will I remember my children and grandchildren in 5 or 10 years? In learning about Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to try to figure out what can become risk factors of this disease; risk factors that some of us probably aren’t even considering.

According to recent research, stress is a definite risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich recently conducted research on animals and found that the stress hormones lead to changes in the Tau protein along with memory loss in the brain. Stress has also been found to be linked to beta-amyloid plaques. Scientists discovered that the more stress the rats in the study were under, the more beta-amyloid plaques developed. Beta-amyloid plaques have also been directly implicated in the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research done on the rats involved exposing them to a very crowded environment and then putting the rats on a vibrating platform each day for a month. The rising stress levels resulted in hyperphosphorylation of the tau proteins which takes place in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.

According to researcher Osborne Almeida, the findings of this research indicate that stress and stress hormones directly influences changes in the tau protein in the same manner that occurs in the tau protein of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Almeida continued by stating that further studies involving the powers of stress on our minds and bodies can perhaps lead to developments in depression for example and how exactly the tau protein is changed in those instances. The tau proteins are molecules in our brain that are responsible for providing stability among the neurons.

There are more potential findings if researchers continue to evaluate the importance of stress levels and perhaps more proof will be found for justifying stress as a trigger of the disease. Further research could potentially lead to new developments for preventing or at least delaying Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from Portugal’s University of Minho in Braga also were involved in this study. They were interested in learning the true link between Alzheimer’s disease and stress which therefore leads to difficult life changes and events and a release of glucocorticoids due to a rise in the tau protein.

References:

The Journal of Neuroscience. Stress acts cumulatively to precipitate alzheimer’s disease-like tau pathology and cognitive deficits.

Blanchard, K. RN. Stress may contribute to, accelerate Alzheimer’s disease. 2011.