Total Access Medical - Direct Primary Care Blog

Can Chronic Stress Increase the Likelihood of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease?

Posted by Total Access Medical on Jun 13, 2024

Screen Shot 2021-07-06 at 4.03.15 PM

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease remains unknown, but researchers believe a number of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors may play a role.

Increasingly, chronic stress is being recognized as a risk factor.

In a recent study, researches determined that chronic stress may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The link between stress and Alzheimer’s disease could be due to a response in a part of the body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a pathway in the brain responsible for stress responses.

What we know is that chronic stress does affect many biological pathways within our body. There is an intimate interplay between exposure to chronic stress and pathways influencing the body’s reaction to such stress.

Genetic variations within these pathways can influence the way the brain’s immune system behaves, leading to a dysfunctional response. In the brain, this leads to chronic disruption of normal brain processes, increasing the risk of subsequent neurodegeneration and ultimately dementia.

Both dysregulation of the HPA and raised levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, are common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Experts say these elevated levels of cortisol may play a role in neurodegeneration.

As with most things involving complex degenerative diseases in the human body, there is likely a feedback loop where high levels of cortisol and neurodegeneration are feeding off of each other.

The brain is undergoing excessive stress in Alzheimer’s disease. In the early phases, there is hyperexcitability in the setting of early pathology. We often see weight loss occurring prior to dementia and a lot of this is muscle mass. Some in the field suspect this disease is more systemic than we currently realize and an overall stress response in the body could be part of this.

The Role Stress May Play

Stress alone may not cause Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s likely one factor among many that determines whether the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will manifest earlier or later if someone was already going to get the disease. Patients with high levels of stress may have less of an ability to cope with the pathological changes of Alzheimer’s disease and their symptoms may be more prominent than those without high stress levels.

People shouldn’t think having high stress levels means they will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

People who hear about this study should not assume that stress alone causes Alzheimer’s disease directly. They can assume that high levels of stress can be mitigated. Fortunately, it’s one of the factors related to brain health that they can address directly.

New Call-to-action

Topics: Stress Management, Alzheimer's, brain health