We know chronic stress is terrible for cognition; we’re just not sure why. But a new study done on mice suggests an answer.
It found that stress has a “self-eating” effect that destroys brain cells while at the same time preventing the formation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory formation. The discovery may bring new ways to prevent that. In the meantime, here are techniques to manage stress and protect your cognition.
Read the Dr. Weil post on “10 Ways to Reduce Stress” here: https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/ten-ways-to-reduce-stress/
Here’s the full transcript of today’s video
If you hear someone describe a term as self-defeating, you know what that is and you know why you’d want to avoid it.
But here’s a term I’ve not heard before. It’s called autophagy. (aa-TAA-fuh-jee) It’s a Greek word, which in English, translates not as self-defeating but actually as “self-eating.”
Which doesn’t sound like a good thing at all, especially it has to do to with the brain and memory.
Yet according to a new study, that’s what chronic stress can do to the brain. It’s a significant discovery that may lead to new treatments for depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment.
But even now, it really underscores the role that unaddressed stress can play in cognitive impairment and why you want to address it, which you definitely can.
Hi, I’m Tony Dearing of GoCogno.com, the website for people with mild cognitive impairment.
We know that long-term unmanaged stress is terrible for the brain. It can be a cause of cognitive impairment, and even when it’s not, it can make that decline happen so much faster.
But what we don’t know is, why? What does chronic stress do to the brain that makes cognition and memory worse?
Well, new research offers a possible answer. This study, involving mice, was done at a brain center in South Korea.
What they found was that chronic stress in mice does a double whammy on the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain associated with the formation of new memories.
It not only caused the death of brain cells in the hippocampus, which is the autophagy, or “self-eating effect” but it also prevented the development of new brain cells in the hippocampus.
Now this sounds a little scary, but I am not sharing this information with you to scare you. In the long run, this discovery has the potential to help you. And here’s why.
One of the big takeaway in this research is there appears to be a certain gene — called SGK3 — that triggers this cell death.
Now that scientists have identified the gene, they’re looking for ways to inhibit that gene, and if they’re successful in that, it could block this cell death and protect the brain health of people experiencing chronic stress, which frankly, is all of us, at some point in our life.
So that’s what this could mean for you someday. But let’s also look at what it might mean for you right now.
It’s not about getting stress out of your life. Stress is an inevitable part of life. It’s about identifying the stresses in your life, and coping with them.
I asked Dr. Dean Sherzai just a few weeks ago, and he said it has to be approached as one of the first priorities.
Dean Sherzai: “Without stress management, nobody will start a nutritional program, nobody will start an exercise program, nobody will start a cognitive enhancement program. Bad stress is the kind of stress that’s not driven by your purpose, it doesn’t have a clear timeline, it just runs on and on without any of your goals, any of your dopamine release emotional goals being reached. That’s bad stress.”
The good news is, there are many ways to address stress, and one of them will work for you. What has worked for me is meditation. And I have found it very helpful, even life-changing.
So that’s what worked for me, and maybe it can work for you. Or maybe something else.
Exercise. Deep breathing. Yoga. Walks in nature. The thing is, you want to have some good way to address that stress. One good resource I recommend is this post from Dr. Weill, and I’m including a link below.
I also have one other suggestion, which I’m going to devote an entire video to next week.
If you want to know what it is, join me again next week. I hope to see you you, and until then, as always, be kind to your mind.
For more information on the South Korean study, read the Psychology Today article here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201908/chronic-stress-may-trigger-double-whammy-brain-damage