Everyone knows what stress feels like. The experts at Neuro Drinks are all too aware that many people feel stressed when an exam is coming up. Similarly, they may feel internal tension when a project is past its deadline or when anything unforeseen happens. Evidence has shown us that stress can be both good and bad. Nevertheless, chronic stress may lead to numerous health problems.

An Introduction to Neuro Connections

While most people have heard of neurons, they aren’t the only cells in the brain. Glial cells make up 33 to 66 percent of brain cells. These cells are known as the glue that binds neurons together. Neuroscientists have identified four types of glial cells: astrocytes, microglia, oligodendrocytes, and NG2-glia. In particular, astrocytes—star-shaped cells with limb-like “fine processes” extending outwards—play a significant role in generating synaptic connections. They also help maintain these linkages.

Neurons create connections, or synapses, to exchange information. Neurotransmitters released by the presynaptic neuron cling to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. Astrocytes are a necessary third party in the process, coming together with the two neurons to create a connection known as a “tripartite synapse.” The name indicates the importance of astrocytes in the synaptic creation process. Indeed, when astrocytes are not present, neurons deteriorate and can even die, the researchers at Neuro Drinks point out.

How Chronic Stress Affects the Body

Scientists have previously established that long-term stress can produce serious negative consequences. Scientists study how certain brain cells respond to fear and anxiety. Short-term stress fuels the fight-or-flight response and is essential for survival. One can immediately react to danger indicators when under stress. The experts at Neuro Drinks explain that the amygdala is the “fear center” of the brain that activates the central stress system when a person is terrified.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis comprises the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal cortex. The HPA axis regulates hormones, more notably cortisol, which raises the heart rate and increases blood flow. It also elevates blood sugar levels. The system strives to return the hormone levels to normal after a threat. However, chronic stress is dangerous as it leaves the body on constant high alert. The same hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight reaction disrupt digestion and sleep. Chronic stress also weakens a person’s immune system, and a compromised immune system is prone to chronic illnesses. 

Stress and Development

As the researchers at Neuro Drinks note, chronic stress modifies an individual’s brain, nervous system, and behavior. This change leads a person to always be on guard. A person’s general well-being may suffer when they are on constant high alert. In fact, the negative consequences of long-term stress can be passed on to their children. A recent study indicated that maternal stress had negative effects on children. Paternal stress also poses a threat to a child’s well-being. Jennifer Chan from the University of Pennsylvania studied stressful interactions between fathers and kids. Researchers also found that stress changed the maturation of the father’s sperm and modified the manifestation of its genes. The benefit of these studies is that doctors can recognize the impact of parental experiences on a child’s health as risk factors.

The Need for Further Study

Studying the connection between astrocytes, neurons, and stress is important since it is clear that astrocytes affect synaptic connections. As a result, neuroscientists believe that astrocytes may play a crucial role in stress-related behavior, which implies that reversing stress-induced changes in astrocytes could be a possible treatment for stress-related neurological disorders. Indeed, scientists have recently discovered a molecular mechanism that controls GluA1 production, which may explain exactly how stress alters the structure of astrocytes. 

The experts at Neuro Drinks have seen how vastly stress alters the ways in which the brain functions and how it causes long-term changes to a person’s physiology and behavior. Studying the science of stress can reveal how it affects neural connections and lead to a deeper understanding of how stress impacts cognitive performance.