Medical Research

Black Swan III: Hippocampus and Aging

Kristen Sparrow • February 20, 2013

Surprised to see this pithy description of the ravages of chronic daily stress.  In this excerpt, Taleb is describing a trader who undergoes small daily stock market losses and what it does to him.

Nero discovered tha the losses went to his emotional brain, bypassing his higher cortical stuctures and slowly affecting his hippocampus and weakening his memory.  The hippocampus is the structure where memory is supposedly controlled.  It is the most plastic part of the brain; it is also the part that is assumed to absorb all the damage from repeated insults like the chronic stress we experience daily from small doses of negative feelings–as opposed to the invigorating “good stress” of the tiger popping up occasionally in your living room. You an rationalize all you want; the hippocampus takes the insult of chronic stress seriously, incurring irreversible atrophy.  Contrary to popular belief, these small, seemingly harmless stressors do not strengthen you; they can amputate part of your self.

Reading Robert Sapolsky is where I first learned about the damage to the hippocampus with stress which leads to, yes memory loss and aging, but tragically, to the body making even more stress hormones in a feed forward loop.  We’ve discussed these issues a bit here and here.  Some on Robert Sapolsky here