A popular cartoon depicts a zebra with a stunned expression on its
face as its stripes fall from its body to the ground, to which the
zebra exclaims, "I think it's stress."
scene is humorous in its impossibility and commentary on a contemporary
issue, the chance of a zebra suffering from stress in the way a
human does is as unlikely as the loss of its stripes.
Sapolsky, in his presentation Tuesday at The University of Southern
Mississippi's final forum of the 2003 fall semester, "Why Zebras
Don't Get Ulcers: Stress, Disease and Coping," said that humans
have the same stress responses that many animals do, but that people
respond for psychological reasons.
the other hand, typically respond to life-and-death situations in
a stressful manner, but once the threat is diminished or eliminated,
the stress subsides.
it for 30-year mortgages," he said of the human response to
stress, and that in today's society it's considered the cause for
a variety of diseases and disorders.
He said for
some, stress is a way of life. "Every day is an emergency,"
response becomes more damaging than the stressor (cause of stress).
You do it (stress out) chronically, and you get sick."
Some of the
top diseases that kill Americans today, including heart disease,
have been connected with stress. About 100 years ago, heart disease
was not even in the top five causes of death, he said, falling behind
flu, tuberculosis, and childbirth, among others, Sapolsky said.
Sedentary lifestyles have also led to an alarming number of cases
of adult onset diabetes, he said, which can also be caused and worsened
today of bizarre diseases that no one used to die with," he
also been determined as a factor in some cases of dwarfism, when
children suffer from such extreme cases of stress that it diminishes
their growth hormone. This syndrome has been found in children who
live in war zones or in countries where civil strife exists, as
well as victims of child abuse.
problems connected to stress include hypertension, depression and
of a person to adapt and cope with stress can determine his or her
ability to reduce his or her risk of contracting stress-related
health problems and maintain a state of stable equilibrium, or homeostasis,
Sapolsky said. He cited the importance of having outlets for relieving
stress, such as a social support system or participating in exercise
or other recreational activities, as crucial to safeguarding one's
physical and mental health.
a Southern Miss freshman from Biloxi, said Sapolsky's presentation
opened his eyes to the far-reaching impact of stress on humans.
"I didn't realize how much of an impact stress could have on
one's health," he said.
is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and
a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National
Museums of Kenya. As a boy growing up in New York City, Sapolsky
wanted to live in one of the dioramas at the city's Museum of Natural
History. One week after graduating from Harvard, he realized this
dream, but on an even grander scale: He went to Kenya to study the
social behavior in baboons, which culminated in his award-winning
book, A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life
Among the Baboons.