New York Times Quotes Foundation Grantees on How Stress Impacts the Brain

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Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., of Rockefeller University, Expert on anxiety research and stress
Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D.

Sunday’s New York Times opinion piece, “Status and Stress: The Health Toll of Financial Stress” by science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff, looks at the impact of stress, and particularly financial stress and poverty, on public health. In the piece, Velasquez-Manoff quoted two Foundation-funded grantees as expert sources.

Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., of Rockefeller University and a Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council Member and NARSAD Grantee, comments on the “biological embedding” of early life stress. He discusses how hardship in early life can change how the brain and body work and can increase vulnerability to developing degenerative diseases decades later. The Foundation funded Dr. McEwen in 1998 when he made breakthrough findings that established the concept of "neuroplasticity" - that is, the brain's ability to adapt and remodel its architecture. His work also demonstrated that stress can affect connections between nerve cells, suppress connectivity and shrink the hippocampal region of the brain.

A second Foundation-funded researcher, Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D., of Stanford University School of Medicine, weighed in with an important call for early intervention in people who have dealt with serious stress. He notes that early-life stress can leave scar tissue and that the effects get “harder and harder to remove.” Dr. Sapolsky also pointed out that, although people are “never out of luck in terms of interventions,” it just takes more work the more time passes. In 2004 Dr. Sapolsky used his NARSAD Grant to explore ways to block stress targeting the amygdala—a brain center for emotional processing. He found that stress causes detrimental biological changes to the synapses and neurons in the amygdala and looked for ways to mitigate damaging effects.

Read the New York Times’ Opinionator Blog about Stress and Mental Health

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Please note that researchers cannot give specific recommendations or advice about treatment; diagnosis and treatment are complex and highly individualized processes that require comprehensive face-to- face assessment. Please visit our "Ask an Expert" section to see a list of Q & A with NARSAD Grantees.
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