High stress may be a major contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, a recent University of Tasmania study has shown.
A team of researchers from the Faculty of Health’s Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre has been studying the relationship between elevated stress hormones and the development of amyloid plaques - one of the earliest indicators in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, published in the Scientific Reports journal, found that mice which had Alzheimer’s disease for 12 months, showed damage to a part of the brain which regulates stress, as well as substantially higher amounts of stress hormones.
It also showed that introducing the mice to a novel environment resulted in the production of even higher levels of stress hormones as well as more amyloid plaque in the brain.
Wicking Centre PhD student Kimberley Stuart said the study suggested that high levels of stress may be an accelerant in Alzheimer’s disease.
“These results indicate that early brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease are associated with an abnormal stress response, and that elevated stress hormones are linked with more extreme changes in the brain,” she said.
“This ‘vicious cycle’ between stress and amyloid plaques may cause what would typically be a non-noxious environment to become stressful and push the disease along.”
Wicking Centre Co-director Professor James Vickers said the study findings may be integral to the search for preventions for dementia, which can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
“With its increasing prevalence across the globe, dementia is now the second major cause of death in Australia,” he said.
“While we don’t know what may cause the sequence of brain changes that lead to dementia, it is increasingly clear that there are environmental and lifestyle risk factors that contribute towards risk of dementia as we get older.
“If regulation of the stress response is a key determinant of risk of Alzheimer’s disease, then interventions based on reducing stress could represent a major preventative strategy, and may also slow the disease process.”
Professor Vickers said the findings also supported the need to minimise the potential influence of stressful environments and situations, on people already living with dementia.