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The End Of Stress As We Know It
by Bruce Mcewen
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From Publishers Weekly
Based on the title, one might expect this to be a consumer health book offering cutting-edge stress-fighting techniques. Instead, brain researcher McEwen, who heads a neuroendocrinology lab at New York's Rockefeller University, presents a science text for laypeople who want to understand how brain biochemistry is altered during times of stress. He wrote the book to illustrate the paradox that "stress protects under acute conditions, but when activated chronically it can cause damage and accelerate disease." He illustrates this point by surveying some 50 years of lab research on how hormones and the immune system interact during temporary and chronic stress in people, animals and even tree shrews. In everyday terms, this syndrome is known as the "fight or flight response," but McEwen prefers the term "allostasis" for temporary stress and "allostatic" for chronic stress. Some of the studies are more intriguing than others (e.g., the chapter on voodoo death is infinitely more readable than discussions of immune function in distressed lab rats). A detailed appendix with charts of the endocrine and pituitary glands, as well as a bibliography with references to original journal studies make this a good pick for students entering the field of neuroscience, as well as scientists in other fields who are seeking to learn more. But laypeople who want to understand how stress affects the brain may be better off with Bill Moyers's less scientific but much more readable Healing and the Mind.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
The stress response, paradoxically, can both ensure our immediate survival and threaten long-term physical and mental well-being. These titles describe the mechanisms involved in responding to stress, but they take different tacks. Bremner (psychiatry and radiology, Emory Univ. Sch. of Medicine) focuses on traumatic stress-its effects on individuals and their ability to work and to relate to others. His premise is that "stress-induced brain damage underlies and is responsible for the development of a spectrum of trauma-related psychiatric disorders." Bremner offers a persuasive argument for revising the current diagnostic schema of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (which currently classifies numerous trauma as distinct conditions) to provide for one single spectrum of disorders, including both acute and chronic posttraumatic stress disorder and related conditions. Like McEwen, Bremner details the biological mechanisms of the stress response, focusing especially on the changes that occur within the brain. The author also touches briefly on Freudian psychotherapy, the use of medical scanning devices, the nature vs. nurture argument, the validity of delayed recall, etc. Despite some occasional repetitive and awkward constructions in his text, Bremner offers an interesting and valuable perspective on the subject of traumatic stress. His book will particularly interest professionals. McEwen (head, Neuroendocrinology Laboratory, Rockefeller Univ.) uses the term allostasis to denote the stress response in which maximum energy is delivered to those parts of the body that will be critical for self-protection. Allostatic load, on the other hand, describes a system that turns against itself. McEwen discusses in detail the processes by which stress affects the cardiovascular and immune systems as well as the brain. The brain, according to McEwen, can be "the target as well as the initiator of the stress response." This system, however, need not inevitably threaten us. Lifestyle changes, including proper diet, exercise, rest, and the development of positive coping skills, can make an enormous difference in our ability to minimize the effects of chronic stress. McEwen's book is skillfully written and will appeal to a wide readership.
Laurie Bartolini, Illinois State Lib., Springfield
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The stress response--fight or flee when confronting danger--has served humans well over the aeons, but under the multiple pressures of modern living it gets overworked. Chronic stress can cause health problems: cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the immune system, and afflictions of the mind "if normal feelings of distress and demoralization tilt towards clinical depression or anxiety." The message from McEwen, head of the Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at the Rockefeller University, is that one does not have to fall victim to stress. "We cannot, and should not, eliminate the fight-or-flight response, for it is a powerful, highly sophisticated response. But we will be able to find ways of keeping the stress resource in balance, so that it works for us and not against us." Better-targeted medications will help. But "the best way to deal with stress is by maintaining our physical and emotional health."
Editors of Scientific American
Hamlet spoke of suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. These days we simply use the word stress to describe that feeling. And if you ask 10 random people if they feel stressed, chances are that at least 9 will reply with a resounding, Yes! Indeed, the very way we use the word implies that we are its victimsas in, Im under so much stress or Im completely stressed out. Theres now a better way to look at this picture, a way to move from victim to victor. The first step is to look to the science behind it all because in the science lies a whole new message about stress. Science allows us to understand what the stress response is and why our bodies react the way they do. Like all living creatures, were mapped to respond instinctually in certain ways, and generally for good reasons. We know, for example, that in times of emergency, we effortlessly shift into a different biological mode. Based on our perception of the crisis, our brains initiate the stress response or the flight-or-fight reaction. Our attention becomes keenly focused. Our heart and lungs accelerate to ready us for action. Our glands mobilize extra energy resources and summon the immune system to battle stations. This whole process is Natures way of empowering us to respond swiftly, sometimes dramatically, to sudden events, while remaining mentally alert and physically prepared to meet a challenge.
But what if the crisis situation does not present us with a foe to be fought? Or if fleeing is not the answer? Too often in modern times, the situations that bring on the stress response require neither the fight nor flight response for which our bodies are genetically programmed. The stress response is nevertheless likely to kick injust as its programmed to doeven though it cannot help speed us toward a resolution. Deprived of its natural successful result, the very system thats designed to protect us begins to cause wear and tear on our bodiesactually bringing on illnesses as diverse and severe as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, ulcers, and increased susceptibility to colds and infections.
The good news is that there are definite things that we can do to prevent this process from ultimately taking this wrong turn. New research in brain functioning allows us to understand the reactions our bodies have to various stressful circumstances. That knowledge is powerthe power to harness the energy stored within us and to channel it in positive ways. The End of Stress as We Know It leads us to a new appreciation of the mindbody connection so that we learn how to reduce stress and increase our overall sense of health and well-beingand even turn aside the slings and arrows of life. Co-published with the Dana Press.
"Famed stress researcher Bruce McEwen draws on a vast amount of research (much of it his own) to explain in everyday language everything you need to know in order to make your life less stressful. Most encouraging are his suggestions for transforming unavoidable stresses into challenges, and his finding that 'a healthy attitude can confer a high degree of protection and resilience, despite ones circumstances.'" -- Richard Restak, M.D., author of Secret Life of the Brain and Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot
"This is a rare and delightful kind of book. It is serious science, the psychology and biology of stress, explained by a leading neuroscientist. But it is also engaging and accessible, and it reads like a novel. If one wants to explore the legitimate science of this area, and also understand it, this is the book to read." -- Larry R. Squire, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences, and Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, and Career Research Scientist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Diego
"Bruce McEwen's book tells us how thoughts and emotions get into the body to influence health. This outstanding scholar gives us a grand tour of the world of stress, based on the authors groundbreaking research; he tells us what stress does to us and how we can keep ourselves from being stressed out. An outstanding volume by a premier researcher, he is articulate and entertaining. Highly recommended!" -- Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., and Ronald Glaser, Ph.D., Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research Ohio, State University College of Medicine
Elizabeth Norton Lasley is a science writer with a specialization in neuroscience. Formerly a senior editor at The Dana Press, her freelance articles have appeared in numerous publications including Science. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter.
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