Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one type of stress-related condition that brings clients to massage therapy, and research has shown massage relieves stress and depression while boosting mood and a sense of well being.

The discovery of a mechanism in the brain explains for the first time why people make particularly strong, long-lasting memories of stressful events in their lives and could help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The research found that stress hormones directly stimulate biochemical processes in neurons that play a role in learning and memory. The way these hormones stimulate these signaling and epigenetic processes in neurons is completely new and has never been shown before.

In the healthy brain these processes operate smoothly and help people to cope with and learn from stressful events in their lives. In vulnerable people or in strongly traumatized people (victims of rape or war), these processes may be disturbed and stressful events may result in the formation of highly traumatic memories such as those seen in patients suffering from PTSD.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol’s Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience & Endocrinology in the School of Clinical Sciences, and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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