#10: What does stress do to our bodies?
Your work schedule is full to the brim, the email inbox is overflowing, WhatsApp messages go unanswered, there is little time for family and friends and plans fall to the wayside. In the long run, that's quite stressful, but that's what everyday life looks like for many people. Prof. Dr. Dr. Anne Albrecht, Professor of Neuroanatomy at the Institute of Anatomy at the Faculty of Medicine, is investigating how stress can affect anxiety, learning, performance and even our memory across the entire lifespan. She spoke about this and why some people can handle stress better than others, how we can counter stress in our everyday lives, why work-life balance is becoming increasingly important and whether there will soon be a pill against stress in the new edition of the University of Magdeburg's science podcast "Know when you want."
Prof. Dr. Dr. Anne Albrecht studied human medicine and neuroscience at the University of Magdeburg and earned the titles "Dr. rer. nat." and "Dr. med." here. Her research focuses on understanding the functional neuroanatomy of stress adaptation and emotional memory formation. Here, the focus is on the role of neuropeptides and so-called interneurons in individual stress processing in different phases of life. Above all, mechanisms of stress resilience are to be researched in order to better understand the development of stress-induced disorders such as anxiety disorders and depression.
*the audio file is only available in German
The podcast to read
Intro voice: "Wissen, wann du wilst." The podcast about research at the University of Magdeburg.
Peer Niehof: And with that, welcome to a new episode of Know When You Want. Here we talk to researchers at the University of Magdeburg about their work and get some really exciting insights into science each time. My name is Peer Niehof and I work in Media, Communications and Marketing at the university. You can't see it and you certainly can't hear it, but I'm visiting the Institute of Anatomy on the campus of Magdeburg University Medical Center today. So not on the main campus at Uniplatz, but a bit on the other side of town. And that, of course, has to do with our topic today. You're probably familiar with this, too: your schedule at work is full, and your e-mail inbox is naturally overflowing, too. There are also a few unanswered messages on WhatsApp, and private commitments come on top of that too. This can be quite exhausting, but these examples often determine our everyday life today. The fact that this means stress for many people and in the worst case scenario, it can even endanger our health. This is what we want to talk about today. Of course, I'm not sitting here alone in front of the microphone today, but I have the pleasure of welcoming Professor Dr. Anne Albrecht at my side. She is a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of Magdeburg. And how stress affects anxiety, learning, and even our memory across our lifespan is what Ms. Albrecht is studying here at the institute. It's great to be here.
I look forward to talking to you, Ms. Albrecht.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Hello.
Peer Niehof: Ms. Albrecht, let me ask you a question right off the bat. We are sitting here in your office on the campus of the University Medical Center. It's wonderful autumn weather outside. How is your stress level right now?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: So I would say my stress level is at six, moderate, on a scale of 1 to 10. Of course, you don't do a podcast like this every day. There's a little bit of tension, but we've agreed beforehand what kind of process I'm going to have. And of course that helps to keep the stress level in check
Peer Niehof: That means you're already moderately excited? Very good. That's a great template for our conversation. Stress is a feeling that all of us can relate to. Everyone can associate something with it. We know that. Is that why you decided to do research on this topic? Or what sparked your interest?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: So my motivation or my approach to stress research actually came from the field of learning and memory. I already dealt with this during my medical studies here in Magdeburg. And the big question in memory research is of course: Why can I not remember some things at all well and not remember them well? And why do I sometimes remember things that I would actually rather forget? And this is where you quickly get to stress, because anything that throws us off balance, and anything that also teases us emotionally, actually causes us to remember things differently, and that affects our ability to remember. And that's how I got there.
Peer Niehof: We have already talked about the fact that you are actually a child of the University of Magdeburg. How did you come to study and what did you study in the first place?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: I studied human medicine here in Magdeburg and also took a course in neuroscience for physicians. During my time here, I had the opportunity to take some courses, the neuroscience diploma course back then, now it's called Integrative Neuroscience. This is an international course in English and I then continued my education in this area and also started working in the laboratory during my studies. And then there was the question: Do I go back to the clinic? And I was very interested in neurology and psychiatry. Or do I stay in the lab? And then I decided to stay in the lab and then I went to Israel as a postdoc for four years to the University of Haifa and continued to work on stress research there. And then the opportunity arose to come back to the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology. And I took that opportunity. And then there was an opportunity to apply for a professorship and it worked out. I am very happy about that.
Peer Niehof: And that's why we're sitting here today. That's the reason. When you graduated from high school at 18, would you have thought that this would be your path in life?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: No, not at all. So the question of whether to go into the clinic or into research was also open for a long time. It was even still open when I had actually finished my studies and then worked in the lab. But I simply enjoyed it so much that I stayed with it and have not regretted it to this day.
Peer Niehof: There are now different situations in everyday life that mean stress and where stress also meets us. Sometimes it's the stress of studying for an exam, or the stress of a relationship, or the current corona crisis, which we're still experiencing. But also such a traumatizing experience as an accident or the loss of a relative can naturally bring a person into complete stressful situations. What exactly happens in my body when we are stressed? Is it possible to explain it?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Yes, in principle, the term "stress" also comes from materials research. It can be translated as pressure, which is an English term that has become so Germanized that we no longer give it much thought. In materials research, it actually refers to a condition such as, for example: What does bending do to a steel beam? And at some point, it has found its way into biological systems. What happens in our bodies when we are under stress? And of course we distinguish between acute stress and chronic stress. And every one of us has experienced an acute stress situation. For example, this morning on the bicycle. Imagine someone cutting you off around the corner on the road. Nothing happens. You're fine, but you still feel your heart pounding, your blood pressure rising, your muscles tensing, your body releasing hormones. Adrenaline and cortisol, those are the classic stress hormones and your blood sugar level also rises as a result of that and most of the time you're a little bit pissed off. So there is still a strong emotional component. You might then swear quietly or not so quietly to yourself. And these acute reactions, these are these classic "fight or flight" reactions that we know from stress. And of course you can imagine now, if something like this occurs permanently, if they are constantly under tension, their blood sugar level is constantly high, that this is negative for the body, so that it then comes quite easily to cardiovascular diseases. Metabolic disorders such as diabetes tend to be favored by stress. And of course there are also mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders that can be triggered by stress.
Peer Niehof: Can you explain this "fight or flight" situation a bit more, because probably many people don't exactly understand what that means.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Yes, exactly. This also has something to do with our autonomic nervous system. In principle, there are two large systems. One is called the sympathetic nervous system, the other is called the parasympathetic nervous system. And the so-called sympathetic nervous system, which acts via adrenaline, is responsible for this "fight or flight" reaction. This is evolutionarily very old in us and it simply means that when we are exposed to a dangerous situation, the body is unconsciously programmed to either face the danger and start fighting or to be well prepared to run away. That's why the muscle tension, the increase in blood sugar to provide energy. And I'm then just well prepared to run away from the saber-toothed tiger. The only problem is that we don't have that many saber-toothed tigers in our daily lives anymore, and those reactions can be harmful in the long run.
Peer Niehof: So it's something that has actually been embedded in the evolution of man for a long time?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Exactly. And not only in humans, but it is such a system that we can also perceive in all kinds of other animals.
Peer Niehof: So saber-toothed tigers are no longer so common and we meet in everyday life in Magdeburg rather rarely, but you have said correctly: Even if I'm on the road with the bike, a car cuts me off, then I get upset for sure. Then my body is stressed and shows this reaction; hopefully not the whole day and persistently. But this situation is there for a few minutes in any case. But at some point, stress becomes a danger for the body. Are there characteristics when this happens?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Well, for example, one characteristic that many unconsciously perceive is that you really can't fall asleep very well anymore. So you lie there in the evening, still feeling tense and constantly thinking about many things that happened to you during the day. And this circling of thoughts doesn't stop, or you wake up at night, or you really feel a bit jittery and restless the whole day. These are things where you realize okay, I'm somehow out of balance and I might have to start working on how I can actively put some strategies in place to work through these things. For example, my adrenaline surplus.
Peer Niehof: So there are also adaptation reactions of the body?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: As you said, stress happens to us all the time, and not all of us necessarily get a metabolic disorder or depression from it. And it's just that each of us reacts to stress in a different way. And it is difficult to say where the thresholds lie. This is actually also a research topic, to find out which biomarkers, for example any blood values, there could be that predict who gets depression or not. There's some very interesting research going on here on campus as well, looking at the interaction with the immune system, for example, because we know, for example, that when you're stressed, inflammatory markers go up. And at the same time, it means stress for the body when I suffer from inflammation, for example with a skin disease. So these things, they are mutually dependent.
Peer Niehof: Can stress actually also lead to a reduction in our cognitive abilities?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: This is indeed the case - in the case of permanent stress, we even see that brain mass decreases in magnetic resonance imaging, for example. This is usually due to the fact that the connections between nerve cells, the so-called synapses, are disturbed and diminish. In the worst case, it can also cause entire neurons to perish. But it is usually reversible, in the sense that these connections can be rebuilt. And this happens above all in brain regions such as the hippocampus or the prefrontal cortex, which are particularly important for cognition. You may notice that you become a little more distracted when you are under a lot of pressure and stress. And this is due to the fact that we also have acute effects. The effectiveness of our synapses is then no longer as optimal.
Peer Niehof: That's right, because I really have the impression that when I'm under stress, my physical abilities, my movement patterns drop a bit, that I'm more likely to drop something, bump my foot somewhere, bump into something. That's more likely to happen than when I'm not under stress.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Yes, this is also due to the fact that one controls one's attention differently and thus other areas of the brain are addressed.
Peer Niehof: Okay, so that means that's not a clumsy thing to do with me, that's scientifically provable. That's very good to know. Ms. Albrecht, more than 40 scientists are conducting research in the field of neuronal cognition here at the University of Magdeburg. You, too, are involved in a research project and are looking at sleep as a stress factor. What exactly do you want to find out in this project?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Exactly. Since January, we have been involved in a large collaborative project. It is about neuronal resources of cognition. I am also involved in a subproject together with Professor Oliver Stork from the Institute of Biology.
Peer Niehof: At the main campus. In our case, the main campus is not located at the University Medical Center, but at Uniplatz, or at both locations?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: So the institute is actually here just a few 100 meters as the crow flies on our medical campus but the building is part of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, so to speak. And yes, we are doing research together on a small molecule that is located in the brain at strategically important sites or at the receptors for it, the quasi "docking sites" for this molecule. And this molecule is called orexin. And we're looking at what orexin can do to fix cognitive dysfunction, especially under jet lag conditions for example. So, when I have a disturbance in the sleep-wake cycle. And if you've ever been on a long-haul flight, you'll remember that you're pretty much limited in your cognitive performance for the next few days, because of the molecule oxerine, which can actually regulate sleep. We just want to investigate which cellular mechanisms and which connections between the different brain areas that are important for cognition, but can be modulated by orexin in particular. And the long-term strategy is, of course, that we not only deal with jet lag, but also come back to cognitive disorders in stress or in aging processes and can then use this knowledge about the cellular processes of orexin again there.
Peer Niehof: We had already talked about this topic in the preliminary meeting, because these extremely stressful situations sometimes differ considerably between men and women. Is that something that can be determined? Because, for example, we talked about the fact that there are also differences in how men and women deal with stress during separations or divorces.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Yes, so there are many findings, so you can't say that men or women, one of the two is less susceptible to stress or not. It's just that people deal with stress differently and that stress may also make them ill differently. For example, there is a stress-induced illness called post-traumatic stress disorder. It can develop when we are exposed to a trauma, for example an accident or another potentially life-threatening event. And it's very clear that men often develop substance dependence. And in women, you see that very rarely. You see more that they can develop depression-like symptoms as well. And even if we are on the road in normal everyday life - we had just discussed this separation problem. We talked about it briefly. It's often the case that women have different social networks than men, usually even in middle age. There are also interesting studies on the fact that men tend not to have such deep friendships, where you really talk about your feelings. They tend to have a buddy with whom they go to sports. With women, this is even more pronounced. And then we come to a very important point: What helps us against stress? Social networks are a very positive influencing factor. And if they are set up differently, then there can be different ways of dealing with stress and different stress strategie.
Peer Niehof: That means it doesn't matter at all that I have a large circle of friends, but that of course, if you mention social networks, I also have a circle of friends with whom I can exchange experiences, which women are then probably more likely to do than men, according to science.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Of course, you can't always do exactly that. A statistic does not yet mean that the individual case always looks like this. But it really is the case that a stable social network that really has a supportive effect is an important factor. These are people who, when I'm really sad, I can call at four in the morning if I need to. Or if I need help organizing a move when I've separated or things like that. That they are really there and take care of you and take the time for it. That's certainly a different quality than when I have a good acquaintance.
Peer Niehof: You mentioned the term resilience earlier. Can you explain to us again and also to the listeners what that means exactly?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: So resilience can be translated directly as a resistance. In principle, this means that I can deal with stress differently and have perhaps developed a strategy to avoid becoming ill from stress. And here we can use this post-traumatic stress disorder as an example. After an accident, it is assumed that about 30% of people can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. The rest, however, cope well with it. If you imagine it yourself, it is of course normal that after such a traumatic event I first react to it, have this acute stress reaction. Normally, after a few days, you continue to deal with it, of course. But that this physical reaction to it then subsides. In the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, it is assumed that this stress response continues after a month. So there are sleep disturbances, concentration issues. One always feels tense, an overexcitability occurs. And in addition, one remembers this traumatic event extremely strongly. So this emotional memory is out of balance. And now, of course, the question is: Why do 30% of the people get this and why don't the other people? As I said, there is epidemiological research, which deals with influencing factors, has found out that people with a stable network cope better. There are also genetic factors that can be attributed to this. But for us it's a big question: What actually happens in the brain of people who are resilient? And what happens in the people who get sick from it? And in fact, this concept or resilience research itself is not that old. The first papers were published 10 or 15 years ago, and they focused more on what could actually play a role at the molecular level. And we are also extremely interested in this topic. And basically, of course, if I now know what resilience imparts, I might be able to help people who have been through an accident like this at some point.
Peer Niehof: This means that post-traumatic stress disorder is, of course, an accident or a truly traumatic experience, which of course does not occur regularly in everyday life. That means that there are different types. So there are different types of stress, which is now basically probably the basis. And then, of course, there is post-traumatic stress disorder, which simply adds another layer on top, so to speak.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Exactly. That would be a psychiatric illness that only occurs after extreme stress, which we hopefully don't have in everyday life. There are studies on what our probability is of experiencing such a potentially life-threatening or such an extremely strong event. And that can be up to 80% in a western society.
Peer Niehof: With post-traumatic stress disorder, of course, it's more that it's probably difficult to study that because there just aren't enough people who have experienced that. So where is the science on that? Is it possible to say roughly?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Yes, of course there is an outpatient clinic for victims of violence here in Saxony-Anhalt, for example, that you can turn to. And there is also a large outpatient clinic in Berlin. And, of course, it is also possible to find test persons who can be examined. Another point is, of course, that in our laboratory, we don't work with test subjects, but we work with various rodent models in which we can simulate such situations. And of course we also look at how the mice are afterwards, after a psychological stress, and then I can see the same thing. So I have animals in a control group that always behave and are happy in their cage. And I have animals in a certain test setting that react a bit more anxiously. And of course, the question now is: How do they differ molecularly? For example.
Peer Niehof: If we come back to resilience again. Are there factors that promote resilience in some way?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Yes, as I said, we had already talked about the social network as a big factor. A second point is, of course, that each of us knows in our everyday lives or does unconsciously, uses strategies that help us to deal with stress. For example, many of us have a certain hobby that we pursue. Sports is one of them. If we remember again what an acute stress reaction looks like, adrenaline release and muscle tension, then you can imagine that if you then let off steam on the soccer field or running, that this is really a good strategy to fight against this stress reaction and to reduce it. Even in the long term. And these are certainly strategies that many of us already incorporate into our everyday lives. Of course, everyone finds his or her own niche and this always takes place according to the situation.
Peer Niehof: That means you can already train your resilience in some way. Some people already do this, probably subconsciously, especially through sport. We've already talked about the fact that there are differences in stress between the sexes. But are there also differences in age? For example, is a young 18-year-old more stress-resistant than someone who has just turned 60?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: That's a good question. Well, in principle, if we look at the physical reactions, it's the case that younger people certainly still have a larger buffer before they develop metabolic syndrome at some point, although you can also think of it as creating an account, where you then pay into it and a stressful lifestyle doesn't have to take immediate revenge. But then I have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. And you don't get these typical managerial diseases when you're 30. But that hits when you're a bit older. And it really depends on the situation. Of course, you might have a bit more of a physical buffer to compensate for things in your younger years. But you have certainly learned more cognitive strategies over the years, also to deal with stress, where perhaps the experience is simply lacking in younger years.
Peer Niehof: Okay, that's good to know. Ms. Albrecht, when I try to structure my everyday life, it can degenerate into stress - work, sports, meeting friends, etc. pp. What types of stress are there? We have already scratched the surface, but there are certainly more types than, just normal stress, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Exactly. So I could classify it by intensity. We've already talked about acute vs. continuous stress, which is also an important point, whether I only ever have acute stress events that subside. I can recover sufficiently or whether it degenerates into continuous stress. And on the other hand, of course, stress doesn't always have to be bad. In stress research, a distinction is made between eustress and distress, especially in occupational medicine. Eustress always means good, from the Greek. Distress would be stress that is negative. And each of us has certainly experienced that a deadline can be very invigorating. That you suddenly manage to get a lot done when time is pressing. And again, some people really enjoy it when the day is very full, when their schedule is full and they have a lot of action and meet a lot of people. And perhaps more introverted personalities find it unpleasant, stressful. And here we come back to the individual balance, that these things are not the same for everyone. And according to one's own inclinations, one then develops one's own adaptation strategies.
Peer Niehof: This probably also happens quite often subconsciously.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Exactly. So it's certainly the case that if I like my schedule very full now, then yes, I plan my day accordingly. Or if I like making plans at all, for example. That's also a strategy to reduce stress. I also like it when I know what's coming up during the day, when all the appointments are on a list somewhere and I can also check off my to-do list. That calms me down.
Peer Niehof: Yes, me too.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: But there are also people who are more constrained by it, who have the feeling that their day is somehow controlled by others, and who might not be the type to notice it.
Peer Niehof: I often have the impression that if you look at society, stress or the term stress has become a fashionable term and also really such a status symbol. Because if you have a lot of stress, you have a lot to do, you're incredibly popular, you have a lot on your plate, and you're somehow important. In my opinion, this is a dangerous development. How do you see it?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Yes, there is this development. It's been around for a very long time, that those who are always busy are also particularly in demand or efficient. But I also have a feeling that there's a countermovement that's all about work-life balance, for example. That's a big buzzword that's becoming increasingly important for many companies. And even here at the OVGU, there are offers for me to integrate small breaks into my workday, such as an active break or sports activities. Or there are more flexible work hour models where I can better organize my day and it becomes more family-compatible. So I can already see that there is a countermovement and that keywords like mindfulness, which also aim to promote resilience and reduce stress, are playing an increasingly important role in our everyday lives.
Peer Niehof: Then we're actually on the right topic, namely what helps against stress? Perhaps some listeners would like to know now. If I google stress reduction, really enter this keyword, then I get such wonderful suggestions as humming songs, holding my hands under warm water or doing yoga. But also such wonderful suggestions as a digital time-out. So really putting the cell phone aside and turning off the laptop. Do these tips really help, or can science find out something else and say: These are completely different approaches.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: In fact, all of these little methods are about me taking myself out of a situation for a moment and taking a short break and focusing on something else, for example, holding my hands under water. And that's what then basically gives us a chance to briefly reset ourselves and say: How am I actually doing with this? So it can already be a strategy that is helpful. In fact, there is really hard evidence that, for example, meditation techniques, certain breathing techniques do something to our brain and control, for example, rhythmic brain activity. So if you take your time and breathe deeply for a few minutes in a concentrated way, it causes our brain to get into a certain rhythm and we calm down. And if, for example, I simulate this in an animal model and induce such rhythmic brain activity, then I can see that the animals, for example, are suddenly less anxious. So I can really simulate that. And I can then incorporate this information into my everyday life. And because the stress reaction is always so individual, everyone has to see what works for them. I also do yoga, and there are many other styles that you can do. I don't like it at all, for example, when you have to sit in one place for minutes and hold a certain position. That doesn't relax me at all. Rather the opposite. But if you move like this and breathe while doing it, I find that very pleasant, then I also feel more relaxed afterwards when I come out of the class.
Peer Niehof: But what we definitely learned is that it's super individual, that one person says, okay, the breathing exercises work for me. For myself, it's more the sport and not the sport where you breathe in a lot. Maybe it is not the sport itself, but maybe also the phase afterwards, as you said, that you come to rest, that the body relaxes a little bit. That's probably what supports stress reduction. In this context, you are also investigating the process of autophagy together with biologists from the University of Magdeburg. What is that? Can you explain roughly what this term means and what you are doing?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Exactly. So autophagy is a process that even yeast cells already have, that is, the one that has then been followed up into mammalian cells. And autophagy is such a cleaning mechanism of the cell, you could describe it, where, for example, proteins that no longer function well or cell components that no longer function well are degraded. And in neurons, the rate of these degradation processes is actually relatively high. But they are not only used to degrade, for example, misfolded proteins, which are also a cause of diseases like Alzheimer's dementia, but we also use autophagy in neurons to degrade certain signaling molecules, which again are important for so-called plasticity, information transmission, and adaptation of information transmission. And autophagy can then, for example, such a molecule that sits in the cell to take up information from the neighboring cell, can then modify that, for example, take it up and make sure that it then no longer sits there. And that again affects how we process information at the cellular level. Our project, which we want to start in January, is again about a small molecule in the brain, the so-called neuropeptide Y. This molecule is the basis of our research.
Peer Niehof: Can you just briefly explain - we were all in biology, I'm sure we paid super attention - but what is a neuropeptide?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: So neuropeptide is actually a small miniprotein. And the special thing about neuropeptides is that they do not form like the usual neurotransmitters throughout the brain, but rather there are certain cells that produce them and they are only located in certain areas of the brain. The neuropeptide is then spread and transported to other brain areas. There are docking sites for it and in these cells, in the target area, certain processes are triggered. And we know, for example, about this so-called neuropeptide Y that it has an anxiety-relieving effect and that it also seems to promote resilience, even in the case of traumatic stress. But we don't know that well what actually happens in the cells when NPY docks there. And if we can understand that, then we might be able to eventually contribute to the development of drugs that promote resilience. And we do know that NPY drives autophagy, and we think that this mechanism may play a big role in that. We already know through preliminary findings that I collected with Anke Müller from the Institute of Pharmacology in a joint project. This was done through the Center for Behavior Brain Research, the CBBS here on campus. By then we knew that a certain signaling molecule in the cells is altered via NPY-mediated autophagy. And in our current project, we're focusing on what's called the pre-synapse, which is certain structures in the hippocampus, which is a brain region that's important for integrating memory, but also for emotional learning.
Peer Niehof: If we look to the future, you have just mentioned the topic. Medicine, that's an intriguing point. Will there ever be a drug that removes stress or makes us more resistant? Are there any forecasts for the future?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: The idea is, of course, that we develop a drug just when it becomes neurologically-psychiatrically relevant. So we already had the example of post-traumatic stress disorder or the example of depression. There, of course, it's important that we improve our drugs. In the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, the drugs that are currently available may help one third of the patients. For one third, not so much changes, and one third gets worse even with drug therapy. And here, of course, it is important that we can develop drugs, because this is a traumatic event and we cannot yet predict who will be affected, who will develop PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. And we also can't predict yet how long it will last then. So it can hit them at a young age and then they take that with them for the rest of their lives. And this is where it's important to develop more precise medications. There are medications that target neurotransmitter systems, for example, that calm us down. So the anxiety subsides. But you get tired, you can't concentrate well, you have poor memory, and worse, they're addictive. So I always have to increase the dose and there are withdrawal symptoms when I want to stop. So it's not so ideal. Other medications that are available right now, for example, antidepressants, they're not really tailored for that, but they can help. So the need is clearly there. So what can we do with that? One idea, for example, is with this neuropeptide Y. If we know that that helps, of course we can give that. These small neuropeptides, the molecules are so small, you can give them as a nasal spray, because the transition of our nasal mucosa is very thin and continuous, this bone lamella to the brain. And that works, that you put small molecules in there and they diffuse through, so to speak. And there are first attempts that this also works with this NPY molecule, i.e. neuropeptide Y molecule, and that this then reaches the brain. The problem is, of course, that if I don't sufficiently understand the mechanisms that are relevant for memory and stress processing, then I get more side effects, because neuropeptide Y also acts on the hypothalamus, for example. A brain region that is responsible for food intake and then I get very hungry. Then I'm less anxious, but I have a different problem. And that's where you can see that you have to balance things out exactly and understand exactly the mechanisms of action in order to be able to suppress these unwanted side effects. We're on the right path, but we still have ways to go.
Peer Niehof: That means a very, very difficult development process, and you shouldn't imagine that there is then a drug, a pill, that you can swallow and the stress is gone. That doesn't happen, but it is specifically developed for certain target groups.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: Exactly. And as I said, stress is very individual, how it is perceived. And it certainly makes more sense to think about strategies such as sports for your everyday life. That will certainly be easier than taking medication, where you have to balance the effects against the side effects. And the target group really is patients with an underlying psychiatric illness who could no longer cope with their everyday lives in this way.
Peer Niehof: Finally, I have two questions for you, Ms. Albrecht. When do you actually experience stress?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: There are certainly many situations in the professional environment. For example, you have a lecture with 200 students and suddenly the beamer goes down and nothing works anymore. Then I get an elevated pulse. Or you have an important presentation at a conference and suddenly the presentation crashes. These are certainly very, very unpleasant situations, but then you have to learn to improvise and see how you can make the best of it.
Peer Niehof: Do you have any tips on how to deal with stressful situations in your private life? What would you actually recommend to friends and family when they say: Ms. Albrecht, you do something with stress. Give us some advice. I'm under a lot of stress right now.
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: So then, of course, I would also recommend thinking about such strategies as sports, for example. And it's often the case that when we have an acute problem, it looks really bad at first. But if you sleep on it for a night or wait and see, then many problems are no longer so huge and the stress level can be adjusted.
Peer Niehof: And who helps to hold hands under warm water, is also probably helped. I think that's good, too. At the end of the podcast: What does your stress level look like now? On a scale of 1 to 10?
Prof. Dr. Anne Albrecht: That was a very pleasant conversation after all. Now I am completely relaxed again.
Peer Niehof: Very good. Thank you very much, Ms. Albrecht, for the interview. That brings us to the end of our podcast today. Do you have any questions, feedback or topic requests? We are always happy to receive suggestions via social media or by e-mail. We look forward to exchanging ideas with you. Until then, have a great Fall season and see you soon here at Know when you Want. The podcast about research at the University of Magdeburg.
Outro voice: Know when you want. The podcast about research at the University of Magdeburg.