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Stress and Brain Development

Professor Pat Levitt discusses how stress affects the biochemistry of the brain and plays a major role in most cognitive disorders.
Stress affects neurochemistry in several different ways. Stress is a very powerful stimulant of the nervous system, and it is a very powerful stimulant of a system that we call the endocrine system, which produces hormones. The stress gets into the brain and causes changes in the chemistry that promote the release of a stress hormone called cortisol. That actually then feeds back and gets into the brain and can change lots of things from complex behavior to even the amount of neurochemical such as neurotransmitters that are produced. Stress also can change the production of neurotransmitter hormones, norepinephrine and epinephrine, which we also know are involved in our stress response. Some stress is good because when we respond to a frightening situation we want to be able to be focused on whether we need to stay around or protect ourselves and flee. That’s the fight or flight response. Too much stress, toxic stress, can actually change that system in a very negative way so that we respond poorly to stress.
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