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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


The Neurobiology of Stress: The Stress Response Explained

(Editor’s note: below you have part 4 of the 6‑part The Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of Stress series. If you are join­ing the series now, you can read the pre­vi­ous part Here.)

Stayin’  Alive

Under­stand­ing the Human Brain and How It Responds to Stress


Stress was put on the map, so to speak, by a Hun­gar­i­an — born Cana­di­an endocri­nol­o­gist named Hans Hugo Bruno Selye (ZEL — yeh) in 1950, when he pre­sent­ed his research on rats at the annu­al con­ven­tion of the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion. To explain the impact of stress, Selye pro­posed some­thing he called the Gen­er­al Adap­ta­tion Syn­drome (GAS), which he said had three com­po­nents. Accord­ing to Selye, when an organ­ism expe­ri­ences some nov­el or threat­en­ing stim­u­lus it responds with an alarm reac­tion. This is fol­lowed by what Selye referred to as the recov­ery or resis­tance stage, a peri­od of time dur­ing which the brain repairs itself and stores the ener­gy it will need to deal with the next stress­ful event.

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Neuroplasticity at work: Can the pill change women’s brains?

Read this recent Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can arti­cle show­ing clear­ly how the brain can change based on our dai­ly expe­ri­ences and actions:

… a new study in the jour­nal Brain Research demon­strates that […] birth con­trol pills have struc­tur­al effects on regions of the brain that gov­ern high­er-order cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties

… Where­as the sub­tle struc­tur­al effects of nat­u­ral­ly-occur­ring steroid hor­mones and sex dif­fer­ences in the brain have been exten­sive­ly stud­ied, few stud­ies have exam­ined the role of syn­thet­ic hor­mones on changes in the human brain.  What hap­pens, then, when the female brain gets a sig­nif­i­cant and arti­fi­cial dose of steroid hor­mone, either prog­es­terone, estro­gen or both? […] It appears that the brain, that sen­si­tive organ replete with steroid recep­tors, reacts to its hor­mon­al milieu with star­tling struc­tur­al mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Com­ments: The study com­pared the brains of men, women cycling nat­u­ral­ly and women tak­ing the pill. Struc­tur­al dif­fer­ences in spe­cif­ic areas were found a) between men’s and wom­en’s brains, b) between the brains of women cycling nat­u­ral­ly when observed at dif­fer­ent moments of their cycle, and c) between the brains of women cycling nat­u­ral­ly and those of women tak­ing the pill. Over­all the study points out that hor­mones can affect brain struc­tures via neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, the abil­i­ty of the brain to change. Since no cog­ni­tive mea­sures were used it is not pos­si­ble to know whether any of these struc­tur­al changes  alter our per­for­mance at all. There is no evi­dence so far as to whether these struc­tur­al chances are bad or good.

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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