What Does Stress Cause? Everything from High Blood Pressure to Cognitive Decline

What-Does-Stress-CauseIt’s no big news that stress is bad for your health, but what does stress cause to happen in the body? How precisely does the body react to stress?

Being stressed out all the time can contribute to high blood pressure, affect your immune system, raise inflammation, exacerbate symptoms of chronic health issues, and more. Even daily hassles can hurt your health in numerous ways.

A growing body of research is showing that chronic stress is dangerous for your brain too.

  • It can accelerate the progression of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease development.[1]
  • It can greatly impact memory and behavior (even for healthy people without cognitive impairment).[2]
  • It can damage nerve cells themselves, cause changes in the function and structure of certain areas of the brain, and suppress factors that are protective in the brain.[2]

Some of the known pathways linking stress to neurodegeneration include high levels of cortisol, a hormone produced during stress; elevated levels of inflammation; and impaired glucose metabolism.[1,2,3] All of these factors are known to cause damage to the brain and are associated with cognitive decline.

More evidence of the link between stress and Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers from the University of Florida Health published a study in The EMBO Journal in June 2015 that adds another piece to the puzzle. They conducted studies on a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease and on human cells.

They found that a hormone we produce in the brain under stress, called corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF), increases the production of amyloid beta proteins. Amyloid beta is what collects in the brain, causing amyloid plaques—hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.[4]


Through complex experiments, the researchers found that when human cells are treated with CRF, an enzyme called gamma secretase becomes more active, which in turn causes a significant increase in amyloid proteins.[4]

Put simply, stress causes an increase in the hormone CRF, which causes a build up of amyloid proteins. These amyloid proteins eventually can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.[4]

The findings of this study add to the growing body of evidence that stress may be a contributing factor in Alzheimer’s disease.

How to reduce your stress

If you find yourself overwhelmed and stressed often, as many of us do, you’ll want to start implementing strategies now that reduce the impact of stress on your life and your body.

Reducing stress is one of our Top 9 Health Tips of All Time: How to Implement the Health Strategies Choices That Matter Most. In that free guide you’ll find a list of some of the top strategies for reducing stress.

These include starting a meditation practice, practicing deep-paced breathing, or supplementing with ashwagandha. This herbal remedy will help you feel less stressed, and it will also lower levels of the cortisol, which is known to impact the brain. Read more about using ashwagandha to lower stress here.

Share your experience

Are you stressed? Do you have techniques that work for you to reduce stress in your life? Share your tips in the comments section below.

[1] Rev Neurosci. 2014;25(6):785-804.

[2] Front Psychiatry. 2014 Apr 23;5:40.

[3] Expert Rev Neurother. 2014 Feb;14(2):123-5.

[4] EMBO J. 2015 Jun 12;34(12):1674-86.

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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