Does Depression Kill Brain Cells? (A complete guide)

In this article, we will be answering the question “Does depression kill brain cells?”. We will also discuss how depression kills brain cells, what is depression, its effects on the brain, treatments and frequently asked questions about the subject.

Does Depression Kill Brain Cells?

Depression can be a very stressful condition for an individual due to its terrifying effects physically, emotionally and psychologically. A study suggested that the brain cells in the hippocampus could be killed because of a single-socially stress related event experience by a person.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain related to memory, learning and emotion. It also serves as a center where new brain cells are produced throughout life.

It was also found that everyday stress, which is accumulated in time causes the brain to shrink. It is normal for us to experience stressful life events. Some days are good, some bad. However, researchers suggest that everyday stress accumulated in time can also contribute to mental disorders.

Stress can also negatively impact one’s functioning such as decrease in quality performance, difficulty planning, setting priorities, taking action, memory retrieval and spatial memory.

Rumination of negative experience also increases activity in the amygdala, responsible for regulating emotions and threatening stimuli, also increases likeliness of an individual to be avoidant, lack interest and motivation and is likely to result in depression.

So yes, depression can kill brain cells. However, stress impacts neurons whether it will survive or not.

What is depression?

Depression is a psychological disorder which is also known as Major Depressive Disorder characterized by the lack of interest in life which can be manifested with loss of appetite, lack of interest in pleasurable activities, lethargy, insomnia and feelings of unworthiness and helplessness.

It is having persistent feelings of sadness and helplessness, and significantly and negatively affects an individual’s way of thinking, feeling and behaving that causes distress to the person, impairment in functioning, can cause danger and deviance among others.

Depression can be a cause of stress, trauma, and other factors such as our biology, psychology and the way we relate ourselves with others and the world. 

What is the importance of our brain cells?

The brain cells or neurons are the building blocks of our nervous system that receives and sends messages to the different parts and regions of the body through other neurons, muscles and tissues. It is composed of three main parts namely the soma (cell body), dendrites and the axon.  

There are different types of cells and they vary according to its function and structure. It is found on the different parts of our body, not just on our head as it serves as the wires that send signals and information for us to move, think, and feel. Some are controlled by our own consciousness while others are instinctive or involuntary like the pumping of the heart.

Our brain cells are an important part of our system as this is like the central processing unit (CPU) of our body, sending commands and other activities that makes thinking, digestion, movement of the muscles and other involuntary muscle activities possible in our body possible.

Without our brain cells, we will not be able to think, breathe, feel and understand ourselves, others and our surroundings. Impairment or damage with our brain cells can cause us to become dysfunctional accordingly. Our brain cells are connected to the different parts of our body. Like a CPU in a computer, our brain, where our brain cells are tied, serves as the headquarter to control and facilitate our bodily functions as a living organism.  

Does stress change the structure in our brain?

Our brain is made up of gray matter which is responsible for decision making, problem solving and white matter responsible for communicating information with different regions of the brain through neural connections made up of axons.

Our white matter also has a component called myelin that helps send information through electrical signals. This is a white sheath which sends signals throughout the body. Due to stress, this may cause an overproduction of the myelin that may result in long lasting change in the brain structure.

Moreso, chronic stress may either result in resilience or vulnerability to mental disease depending and based on the patterns of the white matter an individual gets in their early life, explained by Daniela Kuffer, a psychologist.

However, good stress or eustress may help regulate the myelin by rewiring the brain better by sending signals more quickly and efficiently. This creates stronger networks or better neuroplasticity and greater resiliency.

Does Depression Kill Brain Cells?

Depression can be a very stressful condition for an individual due to its terrifying effects physically, emotionally and psychologically. A study suggested that the brain cells in the hippocampus could be killed because of a single-socially stress related event experience by a person.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain related to memory, learning and emotion. It also serves as a center where new brain cells are produced throughout life.

It was also found that everyday stress, which is accumulated in time causes the brain to shrink. It is normal for us to experience stressful life events. Some days are good, some bad. However, researchers suggest that everyday stress accumulated in time can also contribute to mental disorders.

Stress can also negatively impact one’s functioning such as decrease in quality performance, difficulty planning, setting priorities, taking action, memory retrieval and spatial memory.

Rumination of negative experience also increases activity in the amygdala, responsible for regulating emotions and threatening stimuli, also increases likeliness of an individual to be avoidant, lack interest and motivation and is likely to result in depression.

So yes, depression can kill brain cells. However, stress impacts neurons whether it will survive or not.

What are the effects of depression to the brain?

Changes of structure and connection due to depression usually takes 8 months to manifest and be seen. This may result in significant changes in memory, learning, emotions, attention, mood and cognition.

Here are few of the many effects of depression in the brain:

–          Reduces gray matter volume in the hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory.

–          Reduces GMV on the prefrontal cortex which plays a role in our higher level of planning and thinking.  

–          Glutamate abnormalities cause brain deficiency that makes a person become mentally exhausted, have problems focusing and sleep.

–          Shrinks the brain to 10%

–          Abnormalities in the anterior cingulate region and;

–          prefrontal cortex responsible for executing and planning activities

–          less oxygen in the brain – changes in breathing for people with depression changes the brain

–          brain inflammation – It has been shown in studies that people depressed for a long time had brain inflammation by 30%.

–          Confusion and delirium can be a result from short periods of lowered oxygen

–          More nerve cells in the thalamus brain region

–          Increase in cortisol enlarges the amygdala that causes sleep disturbance, increased risk of additional complications and excessive hormonal release.

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Treatments for Depression

Changes in the brain significantly changes the person biologically, psychologically and socially. With many things to consider for treatment and intervention to an individual, here are a few:

• Change in Diet – There are no specific diet that is found to relieve depression. However, a healthy diet, along with healthy habits and lifestyles, may help us prevent mood disorders and better our mood.

Talk Therapy – Helps a person manage symptoms of depression gracefully. Talk therapy provides you a channel to process the stress you experience either at work, home, school or your own anxiety.

• Meditation – This facilitates a person by relaxing the mind through mindfulness and eases the neural activities that occur in the brain and the body when in a stressful state. Similar to a person who has depression or its symptoms. Cortisols normally are high during the morning and decrease at night. This also fluctuates according to our activities during the day. However, for a person with depression, this stays steady or even worse.

• Exercise – This increases the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine responsible for mood, sleep cycle, digestive system regulation, feelings of pleasure, movement and motivation. These are areas which affect someone with depression.

• Medication – Other recovering from depression improve better with the combining therapy or interventions with medications like SSRIs, sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac, Serafram), paroxetine, fluvoxamine and citalopram. Note that medications among individuals may vary. Always consult your psychiatrist and disclose all factors that should be considered before taking these drugs.

Psychotherapy – Therapies and therapists are able to help you find ways to cope with the challenging effects of depression. This also strengthens your prefrontal cortex which plays a role in personality, social interaction and decision-making.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) – Procedure used that boosts connection or communication between brain cells by passing electrical currents through the brain

• Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) – A noninvasive treatment that regulates mood by sending electrical pulses sent through magnetic energy in certain regions of the brain responsible for mood control.

• Self-care – Aside from therapies, medications and other interventions mentioned, remember that one of the keys but the most important is one’s willingness to help thyself. Avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs and other numbing activities are few preventive measures to avoid remissions and worsening one’s condition.

FAQs: Does Depression Kill Brain Cells?

Do you lose your brain cells in depression?

Yes, you do. Growing evidence in association to depression and brain cells show a decrease in the gray matter volume, where tons of brain cells are located. This is also apparent on people who have depression and those who show symptoms of depression.

Do your brain cells die because of stress?

Yes, they can. Stress can also reduce the size of the brain. Chronic stress shrinks the effect of the prefrontal cortex related to memory and learning. This may also lose connections with other brain cells or nerves, causing effects such as depreciated focus, poor decision-making, changes in sleeping patterns and lack of interest in life.

Which parts of the brain does depression affect?

The parts of the brain that are affected by depression are prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, gray matter, white matter, and dorsomedial thalamus. Their structural and functional irregularities are found in individuals with depression and those who show signs and symptoms of depression.

Does the brain age with depression?

Yes, it does. Depression and/or stress changes the brain physically, with the shrinking and the depreciation of its function due to the effects of depression. The speed of the aging effects of these makes a person more vulnerable or susceptible to diseases and disorders associated with old age.

Can depression lower our IQ?

Yes, it does. Depression lowers our IQ because of the impairment on attention, memory, cognitive processes and decision-making skills it causes a person. This also affects our cognitive flexibility (ability to adapt to new or difficult situations or resiliency) and executive functioning (ability to take action to finish or move forward with a task).

What kills your brain cells the most?

–          Sleep loss

–          Smoking

–          Dehydration

–          Stress

–          Cocaine

–          Substance abuse

–          Alcohol

Can depression and anxiety cause brain damage?

Yes, it can. Chronic stress and negative changes in one’s thinking, feeling and behaving due to depression and anxiety can lead to dysfunctional and structural degeneration in the brain that manifests through our impaired functioning. This may also lead to other medical conditions such as heart disease, aneurysm and neurocognitive disorders.

Is confusion a symptom of depression?

Yes, it can be. Depression is linked to many impairments such as learning, memory and cognitive processes, including confusion. This may take a toll on a person’s focus to work, decision-making and comprehension. Short-term memory loss is also associated with Depression.

Can depression cause dementia?

Yes, it can. A study has shown that people who had depression later in life were likely to have an increased risk for dementia. It is found that there is a correlation between the two.

Conclusion

In this article, we answered the question “Does depression kill brain cells?”. We  also discussed how depression kills brain cells, what is depression, its effects on the brain, treatments and answered frequently asked questions about the subject.

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioral therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/effects-brain

https://www.verywellmind.com/surprising-ways-that-stress-affects-your-brain-2795040

https://www.advekit.com/blogs/how-does-depression-affect-your-brain

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