Sapolsky Robert M. - Why Zebras Don't get Ulcers

Author : Sapolsky Robert M.
Title : Why Zebras Don't get Ulcers
Year : 2004

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Perhaps you’re reading this while browsing in a bookstore. If so, glance over at the guy down the aisle when he’s not looking, the one pretending to be engrossed in the Stephen Hawking book. Take a good look at him. He’s probably not missing fingers from leprosy, or covered with smallpox scars, or shivering with malaria. Instead, he probably appears perfectly healthy, which is to say he has the same diseases that most of us have—cholesterol levels that are high for an ape, hearing that has become far less acute than in a hunter-gatherer of his age, a tendency to dampen his tension with Valium. We in our Western society now tend to get different diseases than we used to. But what’s more important, we tend to get different kinds of diseases now, with very different causes and consequences. A millennium ago, a young hunter-gatherer inadvertently would eat a reedbuck riddled with anthrax and the consequences are clear—she’s dead a few days later. Now, a young lawyer unthinkingly decides that red meat, fried foods, and a couple of beers per dinner constitute a desirable diet, and the consequences are anything but clear—a half-century later, maybe he’s crippled with cardiovascular disease, or maybe he’s taking bike trips with his grandkids. Which outcome occurs depends on some obvious nuts-and-bolts factors, like what his liver does with cholesterol, what levels of certain enzymes are in his fat cells, whether he has any congenital weaknesses in the walls of his blood vessels. But the outcome will also depend heavily on such surprising factors as his personality, the amount of emotional stress he experiences over the years, whether he has someone’s shoulder to cry on when those stressors occur. There has been a revolution in medicine concerning how we think about the diseases that now afflict us. It involves recognizing the interactions between the body and the mind, the ways in which emotions and personality can have a tremendous impact on the functioning and health of virtually every cell in the body. It is about the role of stress in making some of us more vulnerable to disease, the ways in which some of us cope with stressors, and the critical notion that you cannot really understand a disease in vacuo, but rather only in the context of the person suffering from that disease. This is the subject of my book. I begin by trying to clarify the meaning of the nebulous concept of stress and to teach, with a minimum of pain, how various hormones and parts of the brain are mobilized in response to stress. I then focus on the links between stress and increased risk for certain types of disease, going, chapter by chapter, through the effects of stress on the circulatory system, on energy storage, on growth, reproduction, the immune system, and so on. Next I describe how the aging process may be influenced by the amount of stress experienced over a lifetime. I then examine the link between stress and the most common and arguably most crippling of psychiatric disorders, major depression. As part of updating the material for this third edition, I have added two new chapters: one on the interactions between stress and sleep, and one on what stress has to do with addiction. In addition, of the chapters that appeared in the previous edition, I rewrote about a third to half of the material. Some of the news in this book is grim—sustained or repeated stress can disrupt our bodies in seemingly endless ways. Yet most of us are not incapacitated by stress-related disease. Instead, we cope, both physiologically and psychologically, and some of us are spectacularly successful at it. For the reader who has held on until the end, the final chapter reviews what is known about stress management and how some of its principles can be applied to our everyday lives. There is much to be optimistic about. I believe that everyone can benefit from some of these ideas and can be excited by the science on which they are based. Science provides us with some of the most elegant, stimulating puzzles that life has to offer. It throws some of the most provocative ideas into our arenas of moral debate. Occasionally, it improves our lives. I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means that you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it. Thus I think that any science book for nonscientists should attempt to convey that excitement, to make the subject interesting and accessible even to those who would normally not be caught dead near the subject. That has been a particular goal of mine in this book. Often, it has meant simplifying complex ideas, and as a counterbalance to this, I include copious references at the end of the book, often with annotations concerning controversies and subtleties about material presented in the main text. These references are an excellent entrée for those readers who want something more detailed on the subject. Many sections of this book contain material about which I am far from expert, and over the course of the writing, a large number of savants have been called for advice, clarification, and verification of facts. I thank them all for their generosity with their time and expertise: Nancy Adler, John Angier, Robert Axelrod, Alan Baldrich, Marcia Barinaga, Alan Basbaum, Andrew Baum, Justo Bautisto, Tom Belva, Anat Biegon, Vic Boff (whose brand of vitamins graces the cupboards of my parents’ home), Carlos Camargo, Matt Cartmill, M. Linette Casey, Richard Chapman, Cynthia Clinkingbeard, Felix Conte, George Daniels, Regio DeSilva, Irven DeVore, Klaus Dinkel, James Doherty, John Dolph, Leroi DuBeck, Richard Estes, Michael Fanselow, David Feldman, Caleb Tuck Finch, Paul Fitzgerald, Gerry Friedland, Meyer Friedman, Rose Frisch, Roger Gosden, Bob Grossfield, Kenneth Hawley, Ray Hintz, Allan Hobson, Robert Kessler, Bruce Knauft, Mary Jeanne Kreek, Stephen Laberge, Emmit Lam, Jim Latcher, Richard Lazarus, Helen Leroy, Jon Levine, Seymour Levine, John Liebeskind, Ted Macolvena, Jodi Maxmin, Michael Miller, Peter Milner, Gary Moberg, Anne Moyer, Terry Muilenburg, Ronald Myers, Carol Otis, Daniel Pearl, Ciran Phibbs, Jenny Pierce, Ted Pincus, Virginia Price, Gerald Reaven, Sam Ridgeway, Carolyn Ristau, Jeffrey Ritterman, Paul Rosch, Ron Rosenfeld, Aryeh Routtenberg, Paul Saenger, Saul Schanburg, Kurt Schmidt-Nielson, Carol Shively, J. David Singer, Bart Sparagon, David Speigel, Ed Spielman, Dennis Styne, Steve Suomi, Jerry Tally, Carl Thoresen, Peter Tyak, David Wake, Michelle Warren, Jay Weiss, Owen Wolkowitz, Carol Worthman, and Richard Wurtman. ...

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