Does Depression Shrink The Brain?
Stress is a normal part of everyday life. Most people do go through some form of stress and on many occasions, people tend to shrug off the effects of stress and symptoms brought on by these such as insomnia and fast heart beat. Yet, according to scientists and researchers, the effects of daily stress on the mind is immense and can lead to drastic social disorders such as depression, behavior changes and addiction. A significant question that researchers seek to answer is: Does depression shrink the brain?
Seeking the Answer: Does Depression Shrink the Brain?
A researcher from Yale University has reported in a journal of Biological Psychiatry that stress does cause some vital parts of the brain to shrink. The parts of the brain that tend to shrink are important in regulating emotions and metabolism. Professor Rajita Sinha is a professor of psychiatry and neurobiology at Yale University School of Medicine. She and a team working with her found that the most damage to the brain is caused by cumulative stress over a period of time rather than single traumatic events.
The professor conducted brain scans of individuals who had experienced traumatic events in their lives such as divorce, loss of a home, loss of a job, death of a loved and many others. These images were of the brains of 100 individuals who had voluntarily provided the information for the study. Most subjects showed a small amount of grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain is said to be most vulnerable to stress. It is also the part of the brain charged with emotional regulations, managing cognitive actions, impulse control and our desires. When constant and regular stress hammers at this vulnerable part of our brains, the nerve tissues tend to disappear with time due to repeated and continuing stressful events. This makes it harder for us to resist dangerous behavior such as substance abuse, impulse actions and even risky events.
According to the lead researcher from Yale University school of Medicine, chronic stress has a major part to play with shrinkage of a certain vital part of the brain. Individuals that are under constant, regular type of stresses such as deadlines at work, pressures at home, family demands and so on, will experience shrinkage of the key areas of the brain. However, the research concludes that the brain is plastic and there are ways to recover the damaged parts and restore the brain after the battering effects of the chronic stress. This can be done by good stress relief and stress management issues.
Does Depression Shrink the Brain? The Impact of Stress, Depression, and Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue is the condition resulting from constant, continuing stress putting demands on the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol to deal with the stress until these glands are depleted. At this point, symptoms develop. One of the symptoms may be depression. With brain shrinkage possible under stress, often leading to depression, the likelihood of developing this condition increases. With too little cortisol present to counter stress, its effect on the pre-frontal cortex increases.
The body system most affected by stress as described in this research would be the neuro-affective system. Under the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) model of stress, this system deals with depression and other emotional conditions under stress. In addition this system is regulated by the brain. The very part of the brain that may shrink under stress. Thus, shrinkage in the part of the brain that regulates the body system involved in stress related depression clearly leads to increased depression.
Other research has indicated stress and major depression cause a loss of synapses between neurons in the brain. One of the major areas affected has to do with neurons involved in cognition and emotion.
A Final Word: Does Depression Shrink the Brain?
Still other research suggests taking DHA daily can lead to increased brain functioning, even after significant stress. Daily exercise also may strengthen brain cells and the connections between them. Initiating the relaxation response regularly may also counter the effects of stress on brain functioning. This type of relaxation appears to alter the gene expression that is involved in inflammation.
Research into the relationship of depression, stress, and shrinkage of brain structures is a positive step toward developing more effective interventions for depression. Any new antidepressant medications would likely not affect cortisol levels to the extent some current medications do. This would allow the benefits of cortisol while treating depression.