Stress comes back to bite you

This week marks the official “kick-off” of the holiday season–the “most wonderful time of the year.” And also the most stressful.

I’ve discussed the dangers of stress numerous times in the Daily Dispatch, as well as in my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. Stress can be blamed, at least in part, for countless health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Now a study out of Sweden adds another illness to the list–and it’s not one you might think of.

We frequently report on studies from Sweden, which has good healthcare and high-quality medical research. Researchers can often include the entire population of the country in their studies. Now, the national population is nowhere near the size of the United States, but when you include everyone in the country, it makes for a large, high-quality study.

This recent study didn’t take into account the entire population of Sweden, but it did include 800 middle-aged women–a good-sized sample–for a period of four decades. The study wanted to determine how stress affects women’s health, so it considered factors like divorce, life strain, and health issues involving family members.

The study found that the effects of stressful events are not short-lived. In fact, stress in middle-age makes a person more susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease decades later.

It is possible that chronic stress, through its effects on certain hormones, can change the workings of brain circuitry. That, in turn, may leave people more susceptible to the impact of Alzheimer’s-type brain changes at older ages. (We’ve talked about preventing Alzheimer’s before, including in “The Insider’s Answer for Dodging Dementia,” one of the Bonus Reports you received with your subscription. If you are not yet a subscriber to my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. Now is the perfect time to get started.)

Stress is subjective, which can make it hard to pin down. One way of measuring stress that has held up over the years is the Life Change Index, developed by Holmes and Ray. This tool counts and scores major life changes during a lifetime. A higher score–in other words, more major life changes–means more risk of heart attack and other diseases. (And perhaps now we can add dementia to that list.)

You’ll notice I just said “major life changes,” not “negative life changes.” That’s because the body experiences stress as stress. It doesn’t distinguish between a wedding and a divorce, for instance, or a new job versus a layoff. We might interpret a given change as “good” or “bad,” but our health does not.

So what does this say about us? Maybe it means humans are creatures of habit, and we find peace and happiness in the same routines … despite the modern-day emphasis on variety.

But in today’s world, the only constant is change–and that means stress. So what can we do about it?

You can help protect yourself against the effects of stress with high-quality dietary supplements that contain Sutherlandia frutescens, the legendary herb prized by the Zulu people of Southern Africa for its effects on longevity and vitality. Other nutrients to support cognitive function include berberine and the B vitamins. Lutein, another potent brain-protector, is one of the carotenoids whose importance in human nutrition I helped discover in the mid-1990s.

And in light of this Swedish study, pay close attention to the stress in your life. When you feel it start to build up, practice some stress-relieving activities like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or regular exercise.


1. “Common psychosocial stressors in middle-aged women related to longstanding distress and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a 38-year longitudinal population study,” BMJ Open 2013;3