Constant worry may negatively impact brain health
Is it possible to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease by changing the quality of our thoughts? One medical study has demonstrated that people who repetitively have negative thoughts are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life.
The study's conclusions suggest that repetitive negative thoughts (RNT) stimulate the brain to produce more amyloid and tau proteins. These proteins are associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive form of dementia that is the result of brain cell death. It is the most common cause of dementia in the United States and it is irreversible. Increased deposition of amyloid and tau protein is associated with worsening Alzheimer's dementia. This illness is one of the top ten reasons for death in the United States. It is the only illness in the top ten that has no effective therapy for slowing or stopping the decline in mental functioning. Therefore, prevention seems to be the best option.
RNT is defined as the constant activity of worrying about the future and ruminating on the activities of the past. It seems some people worry all the time about almost everything, good and bad. Interestingly, this thought pattern can be relatively consistent. It is present all of the time regardless of the topic of thought.
There is a lot of basic and medical research describing the effects of persistent thought patterns on many physical and mental functions, such as levels of stress hormones, blood pressure, heart rate, insomnia, anxiety, energy levels and depression. Apparently, thought patterns can increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, too.
This study on RNT and the risk of Alzheimer's disease was published (2020) in the medical journal Alzheimer's and Dementia. In this study, 292 older adults were evaluated and followed over time. All were initially tested for RNT, anxiety and depression. Over time, all diagnosed with RNT, anxiety and depression had some level of memory and cognition. However, those with RNT had significantly higher levels of amyloid and tau proteins in the brain -- hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
These data suggest that RNT is a specific thought pattern that is different from anxiety and depression and it causes specific changes in how amyloid and tau proteins are deposited in the brain. RNT increases stress hormones like cortisol and other glucocorticoid hormones. Chronically increased levels of stress hormones stimulate the production of amyloid and tau proteins in the brain, increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Although Alzheimer's disease has a genetic component, it appears that risk factors are not set in stone. RNT is a changeable thought process. It is not necessarily an easy process. It requires the recognition of negative thoughts and adding positive thoughts instead. Then, over time, thought patterns can change from negative to more positive.
Literally, one can "think" their way to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and, with reduced negativity, probably a better overall quality of life.
• Dr. Patrick Massey is president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village.