High levels of the hormone cortisol, which the body produces in response to mental and physical stress, are associated with worse memory and visual perception, according to a new study co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.
The study, published in Neurology, also found an association between higher cortisol levels and multiple areas of microstructural changes in the brain, as well as lower total cerebral brain volume in women.
“We don’t have evidence of causation, but there is certainly a strong association between higher levels of a stress-related hormone and lower cognitive function,” says study co-author Dr. Alexa Beiser, professor of biostatistics at BUSPH.
The researchers used data from the BU-based Framingham Heart Study, one of the world’s longest-running studies on cardiovascular disease. The researchers looked at data on 2,231 dementia-free people from the now-middle-aged third generation of Framingham participants, who underwent cognitive testing for memory, abstract reasoning, visual perception, attention, and executive function. Of these, 2,018 also had a brain MRI to assess total white matter, lobar gray matter, and white matter hyperintensity volumes and fractional anisotropy measures.