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Can Stress Shrink Your Brain? Research Says Diet May Improve Mood, Work Performance

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Just about any New Yorker will tell you that stress can take a toll on your health.

Now you can add the brain to the list of things that are affected by extreme stress. Researchers say prolonged stress can actually shrink brain tissue, CBS 2's Elise Finch reports.

Long-term exposure to stress floods the brain with cortisol, which damages neurons making them smaller. Part of the brain affected by stress controls problem solving and memory. In extreme cases, the results can be serious.

"You could appear as if you have Alzheimers," Psychologist Dr. Harris Straynter said. "It could be misdiagnosed. You could lose your job because you're not functioning as well, you just can't think."

So what can you do to prevent your brain from shrinking?

Some experts say diet is key.

"I think diet is the number one thing people should look at, because you eat three times a day and those choices really determine your brain health." said Dr. Drew Ramsey.

More: Good Mood Food - Dr. Ramsey Explains The Happiness Diet

Dr. Ramsey says a well-nourished brain lessens the effects of stress. He says a brain-healthy diet should include foods with Omega 3 oils and Vitamin B-12. He also advises limiting sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Other experts recommend tried and true stress busters like regular exercise and meditation, and researchers say exercise can actually help reverse brain shrinkage.

"The best advice I can give and I do give to my patients is just relax," said Dr. Stratyner. "The sky is not falling."

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