A study done by researchers at Curtin University in Australia found that a stressful job could put you at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Short-term episodes of stress are normal. However, chronic stress can be damaging to the brain and cause cognitive decline.
Researchers found that stress at work could damage the Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, an area of the brain triggered by emotional pressure, and as a response releases stress hormones like cortisol. High levels lf cortisol can cause gray matter shrinkage and memory loss.
Genetics and stress predispose you to Alzheimer’s
According to David Groth, a lead author, expert on dementia and a professor at the university, many biological pathways are affected by chronic stress. Sometimes, genetic differences in these pathways impact the way the brain’s immune system act this causing a dysfunctional response. Such a response will lead to chronic disruption of normal processes in the brain and eventually neurodegeneration and dementia.
The researchers found that other forms of stress such as divorce, chronic illness, loss of a loved one and changing homes, when coupled with a genetic risk, can put you at higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
To come to this conclusion, researchers analysed previous evidence. They found that stress caused inflammation of the HPA. This, in turn, slowed down the clearance lf proteins called beta-amyloid and tau, which slump together and destroy neurons in the brain. Microglia, the immune cells of the brain, cannot kill them.
Microglia is triggered by chronic stress
Researchers also found that microglia can be triggered by chronic stress causing further inflammation of the brain as an immune response.
According to Groth, there is still a lot that needs to be understood on how genetic factors influence the brain’s reaction to chronic stress and cortisol and their subsequent reaction with microglia to cause Alzheimer’s. Genetic mutations can make a person more susceptible to stress, and cortisol can explain how the microglia enter a primed state.
Multiple types of microglia, each with different genetic signatures, exist inside the Brian. These types could react differently to stress and genetic interaction.
Growth believes that this study could produce drugs that target tau, beta-amyloid or microglia and new strategies to cope with stress.