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Sapolsky: Zebras – A Model for Westernized Stress-Related Disease

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Physiological Responses to Chronic Stress-Related Disease and Illness

It is without question that stress is a major contributing factor to illness, disease, and even death in Westernized cultures.

  • company meetings
  • children
  • deadlines
  • soccer practice
  • paychecks
  • college applications
  • social status
  • relationships
  • parents

…and the list continues.

 

These are only a few aspects of our lives with which we wrestle on a daily basis. Without the ability to escape from these stressors, we inevitably suffer from chronic stress-related disease and illness.

Yet, the mere thought of all of these perceived stressors and a lion roaring in your face are somehow able to elicit an identical physiological response. How can that be?  And, more importantly, what exactly is happening?

Sympathetic Response in the Autonomic Nervous System

Naturally, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system sympathizes with your perceived and physical stressors equally, equipping your body to respond appropriately for fight or flight.

The Hypothalamus and Stress

This message is sent out from the hypothalamus, the master gland, triggering a cascade of hormone and neurotransmitter release.

This parade of hormones and neurotransmitters consists of a procession of epinephrine and norepinephrine (representing the sympathetic sector) and glucocorticoids (hailing from the adrenal cortex), all coming together to celebrate the arrival of the stressor.

While this response is critical for survival in certain situations, a non-stop, continuous cascade-parade of these neurotransmitters and hormones will leave your body feeling like the streets of New Orleans following Mardi Gras.

Thus, in essence, the situations we react to internally and psychologically, will eventually manifest physically – creating damage to the body.

Perpetual activation of the sympathetic system prevents the body from investing energy towards basic maintenance required for maintaining health, such as growth, digestion and cell repair.

Sapolsky and Westernized Stress-Related Disease

This video explores the research Stanford’s Dr. Robert Sapolsky conducted on Baboons in Kenya, and how the social and psychological stressors found within their community serve as a good model for Westernized stress related disease. These studies allow us to further understand chronic stress, and the impact it has on the human body.

 

 

In addition to a well-balanced diet and routine exercise, a low-stress lifestyle may be necessary for true healing and healthy living.

 

Resource

M., S. R. (1998). Why zebras don’t get ulcers: An updated guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. New York: W.H. Freeman.

 

Clinical Contributors

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Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard graduated with honors from the University of California with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and graduated summa cum laude with a Master’s Degree in Health and Nutrition Education. She also holds a Standard Designated Teaching Credential from the State of California, is a California state-certified Nutrition Consultant and a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

Ramona has participated in nutrition education in both public and private venues, including high school and college presentations, radio and public speaking for the past 20 years. She is the owner of Radiance, a nutrition consulting company, the Director of Education for Sanesco International, and a medical technical writer.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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