Do you ever blame stress for causing your brain to not work properly? Maybe you say something like, “I I weren't so stressed, I wouldn’t have forgotten to do that.”
At the University of California, Berkeley researchers have actually found that chronic stress is changing the connections and the structure of the cells in your brain.
“Neuroscientists at the UC Berkeley, have found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function,” reported Psychology Today.
The American Psychological Association defines stress as “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes.”
An Annual Review of Psychology article, “Health Psychology: Mapping Biobehavioral Contributions to Health and Illness,” reported that “untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system. As well as contributing to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.”
Based on findings by the researchers at UC Berkeley, we can add brain changes, and damage to the wiring of the brain, to that list.
Stress-related illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder are known to trigger changes in brain structure. This includes “differences in the volume of gray matter versus white matter, as well as the and size and connectivity of the amygdala,” according to the Psychology Today article, “Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity.”
The brain is made up of two types of matter: white matter and gray matter.
The white matter is made up of axons, or cables, which send the signals impulses between the brain cells. The gray matter contains the cell bodies that handle brain functions like thinking and decision-making.
UC Berkeley researchers are a group that have started to look at changes in the brain structure and how this alters its function. The researchers focused on the hippocampus of the brain, which regulates memory and emotion. They found that chronic stress with its excess cortisol levels caused overproduction of myelin, which is what causes the white matter to look white in color.
This excess production of the myelin causes “hard-wiring” and a fixed connection of the pathway between hippocampus and amygdala. The amygdala is found in the limbic, or primitive, part of the brain that controls fear and pleasure responses.
If a pathway is hard-wired between these two parts of the brain, they can set up the fight-or-flight response cycle, which causes symptoms related to anxiety, depression and PTSD.
“Chronic stress has the ability to flip a switch in stem cells that turns them into a type of cell that inhibits connections to the prefrontal cortex,” which is where learning and memory occur.
An important conclusion to this study is that reducing chronic stress will support normal brain development, structure and function.
This can be particularly important for your brain if you have a history of anxiety, depression or PTSD. Reducing stress can help lower the risk of the other chronic diseases mentioned above.
Researchers did not study how to reduce stress but I have some recommendations for you.
Here are some of my other articles I have written over the years about how you can reduce stress. Enjoy!
Gratitude can reduce stress in our lives
Love is a great stress management tool
Want to relieve stress? Exercise
Gardening can keep you in good health
Touch can change your health
Dr. Daemon Jones
Dr. Dae's website: www.HealthyDaes.com
Dr. Dae's Bio: Dr. Daemon Jones is your diabetes reversal, hormones, metabolism and weight loss expert. Dr. Dae is a naturopathic doctor who treats patients all over the country using Skype and phone visits. Visit her or schedule a free consultation at her website www.HealthyDaes.com
Amygdala. Sciencedaily.com. December 23, 2015. http://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/amygdala.htm.
Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity. Psychologytoday.com. December 23, 2015.
"Health Psychology: Mapping Biobehavioral Contributions to Health and Illness." Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 50, pp. 137-163. Baum, A. & Polsusnzy, D. (1999).
Understanding Chronic Stress. http://www.apa.org. December 23, 2015. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress.aspx.
Reviewed December 24, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN