We’ve known for quite a while now that stress isn’t healthy, and researchers have suspected that it can even have physical changes that manifest themselves in the brain. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have confirmed those suspicions in a study to be published soon in the mental health journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
How Stress can Affect the Brain
When we’re under stress, our body releases certain chemicals, including endorphins that act as a buffer to enhance our normal abilities. It’s been proven that someone under intense acute stress can do things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, for instance lift something significantly heavier than normally possible. This is because those chemicals act as essentially a numbing agent for the brain, preventing the normal strain and pain that we exhibit when pushing ourselves physically from manifesting itself as normal.
However, it has been suggested for years that prolonged exposure to these chemicals can have a physical effect on your body and more importantly your brain. Researchers had noted numerous instances where this had shown to be the likely case in case studies, and set out to confirm those theories recently.
What they discovered is that, as a direct result of long-term exposure to stress hormones, the brains in mice gradually begin to make a notable change in appearance. They haven’t gone into quite enough detail yet to say where the changes took place, but have indicated that it is due to a change in the genetic structure in the blood.
Other Notable Discoveries Resulting from this Study
Due to the notable discovery noted in the study between the genetics found in blood and the changes in the brain, this study also served to prove that the blood can be a viable means of determining effects on the brain from certain chemicals and procedures, something that had also been theorized before but not proven until now.
Essentially, this research indicates that some of the more common brain activity issues that we have been relying on scans of the brain to tell us may soon be able to be discovered by simply drawing a person’s blood, which is much more cost effective and less of a hassle than scheduling a scan. Using equipment developed by Johns Hopkins, researchers were able to use a single drop of blood to examine some changes in the brain for up to 30 days.
This study could indicate a different approach to stress is needed, and suggests that perhaps vacations aren’t just good for our spirits, but possibly good for our brain as well. What else comes from this study remains to be seen, however it’s certainly an interesting study with the potential to have wide reaching effects on how we live our lives.
DNA modifications measured in blood signal related changes in the brain, ScienceDaily
Endocrinologist Stafford Lightman: Chronic Stress Can Significantly Damage Health, HowStuffWorks