Brain Can Literally Shrink, Study Finds


Various lifestyle choices and illnesses have been documented to cause brain shrinkage. Recently, a report revealed that type 2 diabetes can actually shrink the brain as well. This study brings awareness to other conditions that are found to cause similar effects on the brain, as cells are documented to literally shrink in some cases.

It was usually assumed that diabetes causes the brain to shrink through its damaging effects on blood vessels, however, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perleman School of Medicine in Philadelphia have found otherwise.

The lead researcher, Dr. R. Nick Bryan, is a professor of radiology. Bryan says diabetes affects how the brain handles excess sugar. Diabetes is also associated with an increased risk for stroke or dementia, and this too is thought to be caused by damaged blood vessels.

Damaged blood vessels are still known to cause degradation to the brain, but the way the brain handles sugar can cause the brain to slowly shrink, says Bryan.

Dr. Souhel Najjar, director of neurosciences and stroke at Staten Island University Hospital in New York says the study underscores the importance of primary prevention as it directly links brain atrophy to diabetes. The findings of literal brain shrinkage has been documented in other studies and in other conditions as well.

Another condition that causes brain shrinkage is known as Pick’s disease. It is a rare form of dementia that is caused by an excess build-up of protein. Patients with this condition initially exhibit marked personality changes, including noticeable shifts in behavior. There is also a decline in coherent speech.

Pick’s disease progresses over a number of years and will result in severe impairment of intellect, speech, and memory, and patients are often reported demonstrating inappropriate behavior. This condition usually sets in around the ages of 40 and 60 and affects more women than men. It is thought that this condition has a genetic component, but other risks are still unknown.

Lifestyle Choices

A study that was released in 2013 by the American Heart Association in the journal Stroke, found that brain function begins to decline as heart disease risk factors increase. This is seen in people as young as 35. Smoking, blood pressure, body weight, and diabetes are all linked to increased chances of cognitive decline.

Dutch researchers from the University Medical Center in Groningen discovered that individuals with the most heart disease risks performed 50 percent worse on cognitive tests. Smoking and diabetes were the two strong determining factors of cognitive function.

In 2012, a study conducted by Gabriele Ende at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany discovered that alcoholics also suffer from brain atrophy. Though it was much hypothesized and studied by scientists previously in the field, Ende also discovered that the human brain recovers immediately following detoxification, or “sobering up.” Within 14 days, the brain recovers much of the volume that was lost to alcohol.

The cerebellum was noted to respond the fastest. This is the part of the brain that involves fine motor skills.

The loss of brain tissue in alcoholics is directly related to memory loss, impulsivity, and poor concentration. The actual brain shrinkage causes many symptoms and loss of abilities, literally damaging the quality of life in patients studies continue to find.

By  Lindsey Alexander


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