HealthDay News — Higher serum cortisol level is associated with lower brain volumes and impaired memory in asymptomatic younger to middle-aged adults, according to a study published online Oct. 24 in Neurology.

Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui, M.D., Ph.D., from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues assessed the association of early-morning serum cortisol level with cognitive performance and brain structural integrity in community-dwelling young and middle-aged adults (mean age, 48.5 years) without dementia participating in the Framingham Heart Study. A total of 2,231 participants underwent cognitive testing, and 2,018 underwent brain magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers found that higher serum cortisol level (highest versus middle tertile) was associated with worse memory and visual perception as well as lower total cerebral brain and occipital and frontal lobar gray matter volumes. There was an association between higher cortisol level and multiple areas of microstructural changes (decreased regional fractional anisotropy), especially in the splenium of corpus callosum and the posterior corona radiata. There was variance by sex for the association of cortisol level with total cerebral brain volume (P for interaction = 0.048). Higher cortisol level was inversely associated with cerebral brain volume in women but not in men. The associations between cortisol level and cognition or imaging traits were not modified by the APOE4 genotype.

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“It’s important for people to find ways to reduce stress, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in moderate exercise, incorporating relaxation techniques into their daily lives, or asking their doctor about their cortisol levels and taking a cortisol-reducing medication if needed,” Echouffo-Tcheugui said in a statement.

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