Sunday, February 9, 2014

First Reader: Chapter 13

Chapter 13 of the textbook describes the differences that chronic and punctuated stresses have on cortisol levels as well as how they affect the rest of a child’s life. I found it interesting that, like the previous topics of the course (mainly physical growth), how a person reacts to stress is largely influenced by the events in his/ her childhood. It was stated in the text that “long term stress may result in diminished cortisol response” and that “chronically stressed children had blunted response to physical activities that normally evoked cortisol elevation.”(252) When reading this portion of the text, I was not sure how chronic stress was defined. I understood it to be stress occurring over a large period of time similar to other chronic diseases. However, unlike most other diseases where symptoms determine the presence and length, stress was measured through fluctuations in cortisol levels. I basically didn’t know how frequently a person has to suffer from stress as well as the magnitude of stress in order to have the condition be termed chronic.  For example, whether high levels of stress once every couple of weeks causes similar effects to low levels stress persistent throughout the months. In either situation, the stress is reoccurring at a somewhat frequent rate except the former is more intense for a short period of time, whereas the latter is more tame yet lasts longer. Because high levels of cortisol at a young age diminishes the density of glucocorticoid receptors (receptors that dampen the levels of stress), I wasn’t sure whether the severity and the duration of the stress are equally important or if one plays a larger role than the other.      

1 comment:

  1. I think that you have brought up a really interesting question, and it would be worth looking into further. Since it is pretty well documented that stress is immunosuppressive, is it possible that the frequency and the duration of an elevated stress response have different effects on the immune system? If so, is an elevated stress response that occurs frequently but diminishes quickly worse? Or, is an elevated stress response that lasts longer (but cortisol levels are lower in comparison) worse? I’m definitely going to do a little research on that. You write in your post that “unlike most other diseases where symptoms determine the presence and length, stress was measured through fluctuations in cortisol levels.” This is a good observation. While disease is usually recognized and diagnosed by its physical, detrimental effects on our bodies, the stress response is actually only a measure of cortisol levels (a natural hormone that doesn’t necessarily imply anything good or bad). I don’t think the author of Chapter 13 was implying that stress is a disease, but I think there definitely is a tendency in today’s culture to pathologize stress. We talk about stress as if it is always detrimental to our health. But, from an evolutionary perspective, acute stress (not chronic) is an adaptive response to social stressors or physical danger that is actually beneficial for us in the long run.