New research suggests that you may be at an increased risk of developing depression and neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, if you suffer from anxiety or chronic stress. Scientists from the Rotman Research Institute used laboratory animals and already published human studies to examine the areas of the brain which are impacted by long-term anxiety, fear and stress. They then documented their findings in a scientific review paper which was published in the recent edition of Current Opinion in Psychiatry.
As a result of their research, the scientists concluded that in all three conditions, chronic anxiety, fear and stress, the neuro-circuits in the brain overlap; a conclusion which goes some way to explain the association between long-term stress and the development of disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings also build on work carried out in previous studies which suggest that suffering from anxiety may accelerate Alzheimer’s disease in those people who have already received a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.
Chronic stress and its effects
While it’s quite normal to experience feelings of anxiety, stress and fear, if these are present on a constant basis, they can affect the day-to-day lives of those affected. Furthermore, chronic stress can affect our immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, and cause the hippocampus in the brain to atrophy, which may in turn lead to the development of neuropsychiatric disorders.
During their research the team looked at the effects of stress on animal models, plus they examined neuroimaging studies of stress and anxiety in humans, concentrating on the key structures in the amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Their findings showed that fear, anxiety and chronic stress led to similar patterns of abnormal activity in the brain in areas which are normally associated with emotional responses and thinking. However, the lead author of the review, Dr. Linda Mah, did suggest that this damage can be reversible if the person affected is given anti-depressant treatments.
While the study has proved useful for learning more about the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Dr. Mah acknowledges that more work is needed to determine whether activities that reduce stress and anxiety could help to reduce the risk of developing a neuropsychiatric disorder.
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