A recent study in rats showed that just three days of stress could result in changes in the brain similar to those which are found in Alzheimer's disease. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have discovered that the increased release of stress hormones in rats leads to production of a specific protein in the brain and then ultimately, memory loss and learning ability.
This is similar to what happens in Alzheimer's disease and, following on from studies in people, the scientists decided to test whether stress may be one trigger of Alzheimer's. The rats were stressed by such things as overcrowding or being placed on a vibrating platform for one hour daily over one month. The rats with the changes in their brains also showed problems with their memory and learning ability.
"Our findings show that stress hormones and stress can cause changes in the tau protein like those that arise in Alzheimer's disease", explains Osborne Almeida from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry.
This is a further example of health being linked to stress. Other conditions linked in this way include obesity, high blood pressure and infertility.
The good news is that we have more control over the impact of stressful events than we sometimes realise: a key feature of stress is that it is not so much any particular event which results in an unhealthy level of stress, but the way in which the person deals with that stress. The effect on the person's physical and mental health will depend upon which outlook is adopted, not simply the existence of the event.