Research has found that middle-aged individuals in their forties and fifties with elevated cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress, perform worse on cognitive and memory tasks compared to individuals of the same age who have average levels of cortisol. Elevated blood cortisol levels were also linked to smaller brain volumes.
One factor that’s getting considerable interest in the search for understanding cognitive aging is the growing stress of modern day life. It’s already known that stress in animals can contribute to cognitive decline. This study revealed in a large sample of individuals that higher cortisol levels in the morning were linked to worse brain structure as well as cognition.
Cognitive data was used from 2,231 individuals that had participated in the Framingham Heart Study, and 2,018 individuals also had brain volume measured by means of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Blood serum cortisol levels, which can vary in level during the course of the day, were measured in each fasting individual early in the morning between 7:30 and 9 a.m.. A relatively young sample of individuals with an average age of 48.5 were included in the study.
The hormone cortisol has an effect on numerous functions, and it’s important to comprehensively examine how high cortisol levels could impact the brain. Although other research has evaluated cortisol and memory, this study explored how fasting blood cortisol levels influence brain volume as well as thinking and memory skills in middle-aged people.
Brain shrinkage and memory loss were discovered in the individuals who participated in the study before the start of any symptoms. It’s important for individuals with elevated cortisol levels to be advised on methods for reducing stress, such as participating in moderate exercise and getting enough sleep.
The fast pace of today’s lifestyle most likely means more stress, and cortisol levels increase when we’re stressed because that’s the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol levels also rise when we’re afraid or threatened.
Results were adjusted for factors such as sex, age, body mass index and smoking. The APOE4 genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease was not linked to higher cortisol levels.