Having high levels of cortisol – a natural hormone in our body whose levels surge when we are stressed – can lead to memory lapses as we age, a new study has found.
Researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) said there is a potential link between stress hormones and short-term memory loss in older adults.
In the current study appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, the team measured the amount of stress hormone corticosterone in the blood of young and old rats.
They examined cells in the prefrontal cortex — a region of the brain involved in short-term memory.
The researchers found that older animals with high levels of the stress hormone had fewer connections between prefrontal cortex cells than the older animals with lower levels of the hormone.
In contrast, prefrontal cortex cells appeared similar in younger animals regardless of stress hormone levels.
“Stress may act as a pacemaker of ageing in this key brain region,” said Stanford University’s professor Robert Sapolsky who was not involved with this study.
“The study suggests that the effects of these stress hormones on the brain may be much more widespread than we previously thought,” Radley concluded.