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AMERICAN MORNING

Paging Dr. Gupta: Stress & Alzheimer's

Aired December 9, 2003 - 09:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: In medical circles, stress has long had a bad name, and now new research suggests people prone to stress are more likely to develop Alzheimer's. Interesting information that Sanjay Gupta has for us at the CNN Center.
What do you know, doctor. Good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

Yes, it may be hard to believe, stress could possibly be related to Alzheimer's and early onset dementia. That's exactly a conclusion of a study looking at 797 members of the clergy.

Stress -- people know is bad for you. It's been something that's been associated with hard disease, been associated with stroke as well. But there's been this sort of medical war for some time that perhaps it could also lead to early onset dementia.

So the study then, you know, the 800 members of the clergy -- nuns, priests, brothers -- were studied, and they were specifically asked about stress, stress being defined as a proneness to depression and anxiety.

Admittedly, a difficult thing to measure, but here's what they found. In those that were more likely to classify them as stressed often, they had a two times greater risk of Alzheimer's Disease, and a 10 times grater risk of memory decline. Why is this exciting? It's exciting because this is one of the first scientific studies that shows that perhaps if you can define one of the things that tangibly causes Alzheimer's Disease, could lead to prevention as well. Could that come in the form of therapeutics, such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications? Perhaps. Small study, nobody is ready to prescribe those things to ward off Alzheimer's, but that may be down the line -- Bill.

HEMMER: Back up just a bit. There are many who say that all of us have an element of depression or anxiety within ourselves. How does this stress then contribute to the possibility of increasing your ability to take on Alzheimer's?

GUPTA: That's right. Well, I think most people -- and stress is probably a way overused word as well. But people who classify themselves as being stressed most of the time and people who are in the 90th in this particular study, for example, were among those most likely to develop problems with Alzheimer's or dementia. Now why is that? That's a very good question. Scientifically, if you like at the scientific base of it, when your body is stressed, you are stressed, you body does produce certain high levels of hormones, things like that that could possibly cause a deleterious effect on certain parts of the brain, parts of the brain that are responsible for memory. That's been proven in animal models. Could that translate to human models as well? We're starting to see the beginnings of that now -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Sanjay.

Listen, quickly, how do you prevent the risk, or lower your risk of getting Alzheimer's?

GUPTA: Most people know that, in part, it's related to vascular factors, meaning blood vessel factors. You can do all sorts of things to control your risk for that, control cholesterol, control blood pressure, avoid high-fat diets, fish, berries, vitamin C, victamin E, Ginkgo, those things may be good for you. As I said, though earlier, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications may make the list, not now, but maybe sometime in the future.

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