Is Your Brain Shrinking Because of Stress?
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?"
If stress is an everyday part of your life, or if some past trauma has continued to haunt your thoughts every day, you may be losing part of your brain. Several studies have linked such constant or obsessive stress with a shrinking of the part of your brain called the hippocampus. Studies show that under such conditions this part of the brain can become 25 percent smaller than normal. These findings should get our attention since we use the hippocampus for long term memory and conscious memory. This is the same part of the brain attacked by Alzheimer's disease.
The good news is that once we remove the stress, or deal constructively with past trauma, the hippocampus returns, with time, to normal size. Several theories have been offered by researchers to explain why the hippocampus shrinks under stress; however, other researchers are not convinced that stress causes the shrinkage.
Is it possible for a Christian to avoid the damage that stress produces? Look at all that Paul endured for the sake of the Gospel, and yet all of his writings show no evidence of unusual memory loss, which is common when one is under constant stress. One way to avoid stress damage is to remove the cause of the stress. If that's not possible, another strategy is to learn how to deal with past traumatic events. And what better way to do this than to remind ourselves of the Lord's past faithfulness to us, and, in prayer, commend all our fears and stress into His hands. Science is learning that life is indeed more than food and clothing.
Notes: Robert Sapolasky, "Stress and your shrinking Brain", Discover, 3/99.
Photo: Auguste Deter. Alois Alzheimer's patient in November 1901, first described patient with Alzheimer's Disease.
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