Some stress is good, but not too much: Mild stress is good for the brain; too much bad for the heart
12/07/2017 // Russel Davis // Views

Mild levels of stress may actually be beneficial to the body's overall health, recent research has shown. The study published in the journal Cell Reports reveals that mild stress levels may help stave off the effects of aging, mitigate the risk of developing dementia, and even boost overall survival.

"Our findings offer us a strategy for looking at aging in humans and how we might prevent or stabilize against molecular decline as we age. Our goal is not trying to find ways to make people live longer but rather to increase health at the cellular and molecular levels, so that a person's span of good health matches their lifespan," senior researcher Professor Richard Morimoto tells Daily Mail online.

A team of researchers examined the effects of mild stress on tapeworm mitochondria in order to carry out the study. The researchers observed that the application of mild stress had strengthened the proteins that made up the cellular powerhouse. This mechanism was also found to keep stress-related damage at bay. According to the scientists, this helped reduce the odds of developing degenerative disorders such as dementia, Huntington's disease, and Parkinson's disease as well as motor neuron disease. The experts hope that their study can eventually be replicated in humans.

"This has not been seen before. People have always known that prolonged stress can be deleterious. But we discovered that when you stress just a little, the mitochondrial stress signal is actually interpreted by the cell and animal as a survival strategy. It makes the animals completely stress-resistant and doubles their lifespan. It's like magic," Professor Morimoto adds.


Study explains why too much stress leads to heart woes

A study published earlier this year identified why and how excessive stress may elevate the risk of developing adverse health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. A team of international researchers enrolled nearly 300 participants as part of the study. The experts observed the volunteers through a combination of PET/CT scans in order to monitor their brain, bone marrow, and spleen activity and inflammation of their arteries. (Related: An Overview of How Stress Kills and How to Develop Your StresSkills.)

A follow-up period of nearly four years revealed that 22 participants had developed cardiovascular events such heart attack, angina, and heart failure as well as stroke and peripheral arterial disease. The researchers observed that participants with heightened activity in the amygdala, a brain region responsible for stress response, were at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and had developed heart conditions sooner than those with lower brain activity.

The researchers had also found that higher amygdala activity was associated with greater bone marrow activity and inflammation in the arteries. The experts inferred that the amygdala prompted the bone marrow to bolster white blood cell production, which in turn caused plaque accumulation and inflammation in the arteries. This elevated the risk of suffering from a heart attack and stroke. A sub-study focusing on patients with post-traumatic stress disorder likewise revealed that participants with the highest stress levels exhibited the highest amygdala activity. They also displayed more inflammatory markers in the blood and arterial walls.

"Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease. This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing. Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors," lead author Dr Ahmed Tawakol states in a Science Daily report.

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