Stress, especially chronic stress, has become part of many people's lifestyle. It is a damaging problem for individual wellbeing, for society, for national health-care systems, for the workplace. A vaccine is coming our way, for good or bad.
Glucocorticoids are part of the body's immune system and help fight diseases like cancer and inflammation, yet these adrenal steroids are also so-called stress chemicals used for the fight-or-flight response mechanism, when they help the body to instantly increase heart rate and blood pressure, to get oxygen to the muscle to function at peak-rate, enabling the organism to be at its best as far as physical reactions are concerned -- and that's the same for either the hunted or the hunter.
In his 30 years of studying neuroscience and brain chemistry, Dr. Robert Sapolsky has come to the conclusion that humans, unlike other mammals, are often unable to turn off the effect of these neuro-transmitters (hormones) once the threat is over. And that disability leads to chronic stress.
As the above video shows, and Sapolsky explains, a zebra utilizes the stress chemicals to flee or to duck the tiger, but once the tiger is gone or has found other prey, the zebra's soon relax and go their way as if nothing has happened.
Another aspect of stress, which can be observed in humans but which the professor studied among hordes of baboons, is that social standing and the associated amount of stress often manifests physically. Baboons are an aggressive and cantankerous species of primates who, unless they sleep or feed, spend most of the time pestering one another, screaming and fighting. In that, they are very much like many humans.
In 1978, when Sapolsky began his studies, medical practitioners did not accept any association between diseases and being physically challenged by emotional states such as constant stress, but since then stress has become a widely spread social and medical problem, and it is known that too much of it can lead to neural damage. At the outset, the professor did not envision that one could ever find a vaccines that could help people turn off the natural stress response, yet meanwhile his and his colleagues' research have made them reach the point where test on rats are surprisingly successful.
An article n the Mail Online puts it this way: After early setbacks, the Stanford team has adapted a herpes virus to carry engineered 'neuroprotective' genes deep into the brain to neutralise the rogue hormones before they can cause damage. The virus is now shown to work on rats.
'To be honest, I'm still amazed that it works,' Professor Sapolsky told Wired magazine recently.
In the above mentioned Wired magazine article, another reason is explained as to why we need to be concerned with stress:
...the effects of chronic stress directly counteract improvements in medical care and public health. Antibiotics, for instance, are far less effective when our immune system is suppressed by stress; that fancy heart surgery will work only if the patient can learn to shed stress. As Sapolsky notes, “You can give a guy a drug-coated stent, but if you don’t fix the stress problem, it won’t really matter. For so many conditions, stress is the major long-term risk factor. Everything else is a short-term fix.”
For the scientifically minded who know their medical Latin, there's a beautiful abstract about Sapolsky's work concerning the blocking of glucocorticoid from the US National Library of Medicine.
Now while all of this may possibly be helpful and sounds like good science, the always alert people at disinformation do remind us today, August 16, of the possibility that such a drug could be easily misused by governments in order to create stress-free, well adapted worker-bee slaves as was envisioned by Aldous Huxley in his novel A Brave New World.