Many of our patients complain of having a poor memory. There are several possible explanations for this, but new research has uncovered one important cause.

Having high blood levels of cortisol can impair your memory. This is according to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Cortisol is a well-known stress hormone. It is made by the adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream during emotional or physical stress (examples of physical stress are injuries, surgery or illness).

Short term elevations in cortisol are necessary and are good for you. They help to make you more alert and better equipped to handle stress or an emergency. The problem is many people have chronically elevated cortisol.

If you have been experiencing long term stress, or you regularly feel upset or anxious, chances are you have high cortisol. There is a blood test your doctor can arrange to check your cortisol level. The blood test should be performed in the morning (around 7:30 or 8 am) and again in the evening (around 5:30 pm). Long term elevated cortisol doesn’t just affect your brain; it increases the risk of abdominal weight gain, high blood pressure, digestive problems and weakened immunity.

In this particular study, researchers showed that elevated cortisol caused a loss of synapses in the region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. Synapses are nerve connections and they allow the brain to process, store and recall information. Long term elevated cortisol can cause this region of the brain to shrink.

I’m sure you know stress is bad for your health in many ways. Sometimes we are trapped in a difficult situation in life where it’s extremely hard not to feel stressed. Please remember to take time out for relaxation, fun and adequate sleep. It’s very important to give your body time to unwind and de-stress. Meditation, yoga, magnesium and vitamin c, and gentle exercise also help to reduce cortisol.