Stress: Portrait of a Killer that Affects Our Population

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One thing I found intriguing was the various negative effects stress has on people. The first physical negative effect of stress on people was discovered 70 years ago: a peptic ulcer. It started as a mainstream medical gospel until the early 1980s when a causal bacteria was discovered. Because of this chemical’s discovery, people found that they could treat ulcers through medications rather than mindset changes. However, this discovery also disregarded the idea that stress was creating the ulcers, so this concept had to be rediscovered; a piece of evidence for this was that stress weakens the immune system, allowing for this bacteria to take over more easily. More recently, stress has been found to kill brain cells, shrink our brains, add fat to our bellies, and even unravel our chromosomes. In really bad cases, it can even stress us out to the point of death. In people, stress is typically only a psychological response based on social status; whether or not we get a job won’t determine life or death for us. However, life or death situations are more common in cases based on primates.

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I also thought that the primate cases were intriguing. A primate example would be the baboon. Baboons are social animals that have determined social statuses in accordance with their dominance. Dominance decreased anxiety while those ranked lower in the social hierarchy had higher heart rates, a worse immune system, and higher blood pressure. The same thing occurs in humans; when people are placed lower in a social hierarchy, they have overall worse health than those placed higher. Male baboons were found to have an increased fatality rate from food poisoning if they were more aggressive and dominant and socially disconnected; the surviving baboons would then go to another troop with lower stress levels because there was nothing that they had to beat, and then that troop had an overall lower level of stress too and a higher level of efficiency and function. This shows that who you are doesn’t determine your stress levels but rather your purpose in society. Being in control also helps with stress management. Another example of a primate would be monkeys. A colony of captive monkeys was studied near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The studies showed that while dominant monkeys were found to have clear arteries, subordinate ones had more atherosclerosis blockage. Blood can’t get through these blocked arteries, putting the monkeys more at risk for heart attacks. Dominant monkeys also have stronger neurological connections, which allow them to experience more vivid pleasure while subordinate monkeys don’t have as much receptor binding. This shows that stress today will affect your health not only now but for years to come.

The third most intriguing aspect from the video I found was that various types of people are more prone to stress, and different conclusions can be made from studying these groups of people. The Dutch Hunger Winter was a period of starvation, and people that survived this period had tragic memories from personal starvation to feeling like they had to give up their family because they couldn’t support it anymore. This created the question of whether or not the fetuses of stressed mothers who went through this had differences from those who hadn’t. Dr. Tessa Roseboom from the University of Amsterdam has found that stress can even be passed down from a mother in a fetus. This could be due to a hormonal change in the fetus, showing that not only your fat build-up can be changed because of stress. Another reason is that the fetus experienced starvation in the womb and released the stress hormone. Another category of people studied for stress is a group of mothers. 

Mothers tend to experience stress simply from being a mother, but this stress can be increased if the child has a disability because the mother is additionally worried about the right way to care about the child and the experiences that her child will face. Telomeres are at the ends of genetic structures and protect chromosomes from fraying; they tend to shorten by aging, but they were also found shorten because of stress. The shortening from stress is determined by the duration and level of stress. This was found in those mothers who have a child with a disability; these mothers struggled with balancing life and work, and then they had to manage a child with special needs on top of that. However, caring for others and therefore producing telomerase can help with longevity and rejuvenating damaged telomeres. Additionally, living in a low-income, high violence area can cause high-stress levels in people, measured particularly in diabetics. Scientists found from these people that the distribution of weight around the center is based on the hierarchy. Fat carried in this particular region is also more dangerous for an individual than if it was carried somewhere else in the body because of its chemical properties. As for society as a whole, part of the concept of stress is due to our ideals; we idolize people who are able to manage many tasks at once when we should be idolizing people who can manage their lifestyles without getting stressed.  

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