A recent study by University of Florida researchers has uncovered a plausible connection between Alzheimer’s disease and stress. The study, involving a punctilious analysis of mouse and human cells, could also help understand dementia, a condition associated with the onset and rapid progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study has revealed that stress may be one of the principal triggering factors responsible for stimulating a hormone, commonly referred to as CRF (corticotrophin releasing factor). The hormone is instrumental in accelerating the production of amyloid-beta protein, which is known to exacerbate the development of the debilitating condition.
Initially, an isolated molecule, the amyloid-beta protein, multiplies and proliferates inside the brain, forming plaques that act as fundamental building blocks for Alzheimer’s. The disease then goes on to impair the vital metabolic mechanisms that nourish neurons in the brain. The nerve cells cease functioning, lose affinity with corresponding cells, and inevitably succumb to the impact. These amyloid plaques, commonly found in the spaces between the brain’s nerve cells, were first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. These comprise largely free-floating deposits of this ostensibly toxic protein.
Alzheimer’s disease progresses in a pattern that not only stifles communication between interacting neurons but also inflicts irreversible harm to them, rendering them dysfunctional and damaged beyond the point of repair. As neurons die throughout the brain, affected regions begin to contract in a process known as ‘celebral atrophy’. Atrophy of any tissue is indicative of loss of cells. In the brain tissue in particular, atrophy applies to a loss of neurons and the connections between them. It can be characterized as ‘general’, suggesting that the entire brain has shrunk; or ‘focal’, impairing only a limited area of the brain and resulting in the loss of functions of that area. Atrophy in the regions that control memory formation and storage, is most evidently widespread in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Furthermore, according to the American Psychological Association, recent survey results show that adults continue to report high levels of stress and many report that their stress has increased over the previous years, with 75% of adults experiencing moderate to high levels of stress.
“Stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade, psychologists say that if they don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications”
At the workplace, up to 80% of people have reported feeling stressed on the job according to the American Institute of Stress with nearly half of them suggesting they as well as their coworkers need to learn more about coping with this condition.
The human body responds to events that trigger stress by activating the nervous system and certain types of hormones. CRF is a hormone that is released in the brain to naturally counter stress. Conversely, this hormone also sparks an increased production of amyloid beta protein.
Though researchers have long endeavored to characterize the genetic factors that contribute to the evolution of Alzheimer’s, some studies have also revealed a likely link between factors other than genetic. For instance those that may be lifestyle-related or environmental, and may have a bearing on the origin and progression of the illness.
Alzheimer’s disease impacts as many as five million people in the United States, with the number of individuals with the disease doubling every five years after age 65. The destruction and death of nerve cells caused by Alzheimer’s disease leads to irreparable memory failure, drastic behavioral changes marked by a collapse of the cognitive and motor function along with many other complications associated with the disease.
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