Stress reduction pays off: breathing technique reduces Alzheimer’s biomarkers after a short time

4.1 min readPublished On: 6. March 2024By Categories: causes, Prevention

The brain is the primary control center for our entire body and can be affected by stress in many ways. According to studies, chronic stress is also associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A long-term study conducted by the Swedish University of Gothenburg in 2013 showed that the risk of developing dementia correlated directly with the number of stressful events experienced [1].

The data from a cohort study conducted in 2023 is also impressive: The study involved 1,362,548 people (aged 18-65) from the Stockholm region who had been diagnosed with chronic stress, depression or both. The stress load was taken from medical records and compared with the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease. This showed that chronic stress increases the risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease by a factor of 2.45 [2].

Even more worrying is the “vicious circle of stress” proposed by molecular biologist Nicholas Justice. This states that stress not only increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and leads to a more rapid impairment of cognitive functions and thus to an accelerated disease process. For its part, Alzheimer’s disease also disrupts the neuronal circuits that run physiologically during a stress response, causing additional neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and aggressive behavior. According to this hypothesis, stress and Alzheimer’s disease are mutually reinforcing [3].

Breathing against Alzheimer’s

In this context, a recent study suggesting that a special breathing technique could reduce stress and possibly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s seems like a glimmer of hope.

Breathing helps to regulate your own heart rhythm and can lead to a state of heart rhythm coherence (or heart coherence for short). Cardiac coherence describes the state in which the respiratory rate and heart rate are in harmony. Cardiac coherence breathing, also known as resonance breathing, therefore corresponds to the breathing frequency at which the heart rate and breathing are most closely matched. During coherent breathing, the heart rate variability HRV (variation in the time intervals between heartbeats) is at its highest. To achieve heart coherence, you need to consciously slow down your breathing using a specific technique, breathing slowly and focusing on your heart, while suggesting positive emotions such as serenity, gratitude, appreciation or compassion. A number of important physiological changes occur during coherence. The two branches of the autonomic nervous system synchronize with each other and there is a general shift towards increased parasympathetic activity (parasympathetic = recreational part of the autonomic nervous system).

The study used emWave® Pro software developed by HeartMath to train participants in slow cardiac coherence breathing. The participants were divided into two groups: The intervention group practiced slow coherence breathing at a frequency of 0.1 HZ with the HeartMath system, which demonstrably brought the participants into the heart coherence frequency. The software-controlled HRV biofeedback in real time enabled the participants to optimize their breathing technique. The control group, on the other hand, was instructed to use individual strategies to increase their HRV. The breathing techniques were performed for 20-40 minutes a day in both groups. In order to record effects on brain physiology, various biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease were measured in both groups.

The results were astounding. The research team was able to show that just four to five weeks of slow, heart-coherent breathing using HRV biofeedback had a positive effect on the following biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. The hippocampus volume increased in older adults [4].
  2. Plasma levels of Alzheimer’s-specific proteins (amyloid-ß) were reduced in both younger and older adults (possibly by reducing the production of amyloid-ß and increasing the cellular disposal of amyloid-ß) [5].
  3. The cortical volume (volume of the cerebral cortex) and coordination as well as emotion regulation increased in younger and older adults [6].

What is impressive about this study is that these changes in brain structure, function and health were achieved through simple daily exercise. If such effects had been achieved by a pharmaceutical company, they would undoubtedly be advertised in all the world’s media. And in contrast to the latest pharmaceutical antibody candidates which have so far shown little patient benefit and a high health risk due to side effects, there were no undesirable side effects with this respiratory intervention.

You too can bring your heart into coherence through targeted breathing with HRV biofeedback, as the HeartMath system tested in the study is commercially available. With just a few minutes of breathing training a day, you can simply “breathe away” stress and make a positive contribution to your (brain) health!

If you would like to know more about the topic of “stress”, take a look at “Knowledge stops Dementia”.


  1. Johansson, L., Guo, X., Hällström, T., Norton, M. C., Waern, M., Ostling, S., Bengtsson, C., & Skoog, I. (2013). Common psychosocial stressors in middle-aged women related to longstanding distress and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a 38-year longitudinal population study. BMJ open, 3(9), e003142.
  2. Wallensten, J., Ljunggren, G., Nager, A. et al. Stress, depression, and risk of dementia – a cohort study in the total population between 18 and 65 years old in Region Stockholm. Alz Res Therapy 15, 161 (2023).
  3. Justice, N. J. (2018). The relationship between stress and Alzheimer’s disease.Neurobiology of stress, 8, 127-133.
  4. Yoo, H. J., Nashiro, K., Dutt, S., Min, J., Cho, C., Thayer, J. F., Lehrer, P., Chang, C., & Mather, M. (2023). Daily biofeedback to modulate heart rate oscillations affects structural volume in hippocampal subregions targeted by the locus coeruleus in older adults but not younger adults. medRxiv : the preprint server for health sciences, 2023.03.02.23286715.
  5. Min, J., Rouanet, J., Martini, A.C. et al. Modulating heart rate oscillation affects plasma amyloid beta and tau levels in younger and older adults. Sci Rep 13, 3967 (2023).
  6. Yoo, H. J., Nashiro, K., Min, J., Cho, C., Bachman, S. L., Nasseri, P., Porat, S., Dutt, S., Grigoryan, V., Choi, P., Thayer, J. F., Lehrer, P. M., Chang, C., & Mather, M. (2022). Heart rate variability (HRV) changes and cortical volume changes in a randomized trial of five weeks of daily HRV biofeedback in younger and older adults. International journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology, 181, 50-63.



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