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Stress may be linked to Alzheimer's: study

AAP logoAAP 14/10/2016 Sarah Wiedersehn

Taking more time out to relax with loved ones or a good book may just help reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests.

Australian researchers have found a potential link between high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the brain disease.

Cortisol is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body in response to stress.

Scientists from the School of Medical and Health Sciences at WA's Edith Cowan University working in conjuction with scientists from Yale University in the US measured the cortisol and memory function of 416 healthy adults over six years.

They also scanned the brains of the participants to measure their levels of brain plaque Amyloid Beta (Ab).

The accumulation of Ab in the brain is closely associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers found that among adults with high levels of Ab in their brain those with higher levels of cortisol experienced a greater rate of memory decline.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Simon Laws said the results could suggest that high levels of cortisol may accelerate the cognitive decline in preclinical Alzheimer's disease - that is, before clinical symptoms begin to show.

"These findings, when taken together with other substances in the blood, may pave the way for us to be able to better predict cognitive decline in preclinical Alzheimer's patients," he said.

While the study didn't establish a direct link between stress and Alzheimer's disease, Assoc Prof Laws says reducing stress was still a good idea.

"Alzheimer's disease is extremely complicated so it's perhaps not as simple as reducing cortisol to lower your chances of developing it.

"What this research does suggest is that this may very well be another health benefit, in addition to other well-proven health benefits that result from minimising stress in your life".

The findings of the study, published in medical journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, also provide hope that drugs used to regulate cortisol levels may be used in the future to delay cognitive decline in preclinical Alzheimer's patients.

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