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Extreme Stress Could Shrink The Brain

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Even for healthy people, stressful moments can take a toll on the brain, a new study from Yale University suggests.

Researchers reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry that stressful moments in life -- like going through a divorce or being laid off -- can actually shrink the brain by reducing gray matter in regions tied to emotion and physiological functions. This is important because these changes in brain gray matter could signal future psychiatric problems, researchers warned.

"The accumulation of stressful life events may make it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress, particularly if the next demanding event requires effortful control, emotion regulation, or integrated social processing to overcome it," study researcher Emily Ansell, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers conducted brain imaging on 103 healthy people who had previously been interviewed about their experiences with a traumatic, stressful event in their life (like divorce, death, loss of home because of a natural disaster, etc.).

Researchers found that the people who said that they had gone through a traumatic stressful event also had lower amounts of gray matter in some parts of the medial prefrontal cortex. This brain region is in charge of regulation self-control and emotions, as well as blood pressure and glucose levels.

This certainly isn't the first research to show the physical manifestations of stress on our bodies. Another study, published in 2010 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, showed that people who had been abused or emotionally neglected as children had brain changes detected through MRI scans, according to PsychCentral.

PsychCentral reported:

The alterations appear to occur when children with a particular genetic makeup are abused predisposing the child to depression.

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