Constantly stewing over a problem can lead to excessive release of cortisol in the brain which can cause short-term memory loss or mental disability, says a study.
Cortisol, also referred to as 'stress hormone' is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland. It is a hormone released in response to stress. Cortisol at optimal levels is needed for survival, but an abnormal release of the hormone can lead to memory impairment and mental health problems.
A new study by the University of Iowa researchers has associated high levels of cortisol with slow and steady synapses loss in the prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for short-term memory.
Synapses are the connections between neurons that help us in processing, storage and recall of information. Prolonged and constant exposure to cortisol causes shrinkage and eventual disappearance of these synapses.
"Stress hormones are one mechanism that we believe leads to weathering of the brain," according to Jason Radley, assistant professor in psychology.
Besides, chronic stress also stimulates chemical imbalance in the brain which makes it more prone to mental ailments, such as short-term memory loss and dementia. White matter structure defects can also cause depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Neuroscientists have also identified a link between anxiety and brain defects. While low anxiety levels can affect memory recalling capacity of the brain, high anxiety levels can lead to white matter development that can in turn result in brain defects.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health called "White Matter in Learning, Cognition and Psychiatric Disorders" features the brain's production of white matter and how it influences the development of a variety of disorders.
According to Rachel Anderson, the research lead, and Radley, short-term memory disabilities linked to cortisol start arising around age 65.
However, researchers reminded that cortisol is only one of the many factors responsible for memory loss and mental decline as we grow old.
Brain degeneration is also linked to sleep deprivation in older adults and drinking in excess of two and a half drinks per day can cause more memory loss and cognitive impairment than in people who drink within limits or who don't drink at all.
Although, the study is only preparatory, the findings have laid the groundwork for treating short-term memory loss by decreasing levels of cortisol.