High level of stress-induced cortisol found to be associated with reduced brain volume and impaired memory
A new study established link between high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and impaired memory in middle-aged adults. According to the study, prolong stress condition while a person is in their 40s and 50s can lead to reduced cognitive skills and brain shrinkage. As a part of the study, over 2000 subjects with an average age of around 48 years were followed. At initial phase of the study, subjects underwent cognitive and memory testing and then around eight years later underwent the same tests alongside MRI brain scans and blood samples to identify cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone, produced by the body to regulate metabolism, blood sugar, and immune responses. The study was published in the journal Neurology in October 2018.
The results of study concluded that high cortisol levels could be associated with reduced memory and visual perception as compared to subjects that displayed lower cortisol levels. This cortisol/brain volume correlation was majorly observed in women and not men. However, there is no evidence to suggest that high levels of cortisol can actively cause these cognitive deficits. Moreover, despite considering cognitive testing twice at different period, only one single blood sample was collected from each participant, which makes it difficult to interpret whether the cortisol levels for each subject were consistent with long-term high levels.
Cortisol hormone fluctuates in volume across a single day, so without several tests in individuals across a stretch of time it is difficult to suggest these individuals suffered from consistent high cortisol levels. The study highlights negative effects of sustained high cortisol levels on a person's well-being and health. Previous studies also reported that persistent stress can increase a person's risk of heart disease, weight gain, and gastrointestinal problems. The researchers suggest that physicians should consider this study to counsel patients with high cortisol levels.
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