Friday, July 30, 2010

Relax like your life depends on it

 Jonah Lehrer has a great article over at Wired on stress and its effects.  It's quite a sobering read.

Elizabeth Gould, a neuroscientist at Princeton, is best known for demonstrating that the birth of new neurons — a process known as neurogenesis — takes place in the adult brain. For the past several years, Gould has been studying the relationship between neurogenesis and stress in primates. She has found that when stress becomes chronic, neurons stop investing in themselves. Neurogenesis slows. Dendrites shrink. Neuronal arbors retreat. (In fact, the very act of keeping primates in standard lab enclosures — often just bare wire cages — is so stressful that for years scientists had a warped understanding of the primate brain. Gould has become an ardent advocate of “enriched enclosures,” which provide the animals with things to play with and social interaction.) These cellular alterations help explain why, as researchers noted in a recent review article, a “large part of the changes in brain structure and function [induced by chronic stress] have similar characteristics to those observed in neurodegenerative diseases, most notably Alzheimer’s.” And the higher the level of stress hormone, the greater the level of cognitive decline.
See the article for more on methods to deal with stress (like alcohol! and partying with your friends! um, in moderation of course).  And for more from Robert Sapolsky, who is absolutely brilliant, check out this video:


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