Throughout the novel we’ve watched from a safe distance the unveiling of many stressful situations between characters, terrorists, and the government. Although in the past few chapters these scenes have not been as prevalent, Chapter Eight reinstates the suspense of stress into the hostage situation of the novel. At the request of Roxane, Carmen sneaks Mr. Hosokawa – in the middle of the night, across the house – to see her; the pair, however, is greeted by the extended rifle of a woken Beatriz. The research I conducted last week for Chapter Seven led me to further question negative potency. What sorts of biological variables can stress manipulate and what are the positive/negative implications of the consequences? How does stress impact lifetime longevity (if it even does)?
To begin, it would be helpful to define what stress actually is (in greater depth than what we perceive it to be on a daily basis). My research led me to the work of early twentieth century Doctor of Medicine Hans Selye, the father of the term “stress” itself. Selye conducted and published the results of his experiments in a 1936 issue of Nature. What particularly interested Selye was the way lab rats – when injected with harmful substances – reacted instinctively in a way different from what the side-effects should have caused (Selye, 32). Selye calls the way a rat handles and reacts to the trauma and change in environment the concept of General Adaptation Syndrome, or stress (Selye, 32). Selye establishes the basis through which stress will be studied throughout the rest of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with “his legacy of empiric research.”
Selye describes stress as three stages: “1) the alarm reaction, 2) the stage of resistance, and 3) the stage of exhaustion” (Selye, 3). It’s important to note that his theory didn’t change between 1936 and 1956; further research confirms it still stands today. Stress can be measured as the “totality” of changes observed to have taken place during General Adaptation Syndrome; not all stress is negative or a sign of damage, as some stress is actually quite positive and healthy in moderation (Selye, 3). Selye notes “…stress causes certain changes in the structure and chemical composition of the body…,” many of which are heavily biological and working in junction with psychological reactions (Selye, 3). “The nervous system and endocrine (or hormonal) system play particularly important parts in maintaining resistance during stress,” the reaction opposite of the body’s natural state of readiness, or homeostasis (Selye, 3). Primary biological areas of interest include the adrenal glans, thymus, a group of three lymph nodes, and the inner surface of the stomach (Selye, 174).
Selye asks himself “how it is possible that general stress sometimes cures and sometimes aggravates a local disease condition” (Selye, 154)? His experiments on rats supported the legitimacy of this question, as stress in rats subject to weak irritants completely cured them of the toxins, but when subjective to stronger, higher-concentrated irritants, they were unable to cope. The experiment proves stress can either cure or aggravate an issue or challenge (Selye, 156). If the rat is able to do what it wants and actively work to fight the challenge, it has a high chance of doing so; it’s when it isn’t able to fight and allows the stress to take over that it eventually leads to exhaustion and fails to conquer the challenge. This leads me nicely to my follow-up question.
How does stress impact lifetime longevity (if it even does)? According to recent research conducted by Elif Duman and Turhan Canli, it absolutely does. Experiments conducted by the team compare two groups of participants (105 Caucasian males); the group subject to higher levels of stress “responded with increased… mRNA levels… and also showed global methylation as a function of ELS and chronic stress” (Duman). In other words, Duman and Canli conclude their research in proving “both early and recent life stress alter DNA methylation…” (Duman). Why this is to significant, however, is that the genetics of a stressed individual can actually become modified and lead to later health complications.
Amongst these health complications is cancer. According to Edna Riche, persistent depression has “consequences at the molecular level in terms of the speed and quality of DNA repair that could mediate an increased cancer risk” (Riche). Another serious consequences of prolonged deep stress is Epstein Barr virus, which can lead to lymphoma in patients with AIDS (Riche). Are there any methods of prevention for this barring great reduction in stress?
In conclusion, the stress we experience in our lives every day can take quite a toll on our living, biological beings. Hans Seyle was the first to study the “syndrome” and has laid the groundwork for future scientists and researchers studying the area. His life dedication to experimenting with lab rats and studying the psychological and biological effects of stress has proved the three stages we go through when put under such pressure. Further research has confirmed a cut in lifetime by showing through experimentation and research the relationship between high levels of stress and terminal diseases. Although my research this week has been rarely neat, I would like to further explore how the hormonal system has such a significant impact on the DNA encoded in our cells. Does average life expectancy differ significantly from country to country? Does average level of stress play a significant role in affecting a country’s average life expectancy?
Duman, Elif, and Turhan Canli. “Influence of Life Stress, 5-HTTLPR Genotype, and SLC6A4 Methylation on Gene Expression and Stress Response in Healthy Caucasian Males.” Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders. 14 May 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. < http://www.biolmoodanxietydisord.com/content/5/1/2>.
Riche, Edna. “Stress, Depression, the Immune System, and Cancer.” Psychological Features of Cancer 5 (2004): 621. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. <http://www.colorado.edu/intphys/Class/IPHY3700_Greene/pdfs/MindBodyHealthArticles/stressCancer.pdf>.
Selye, Hans. “A Syndrome Produced by Diverse Nocuous Agents.” Nature 138 (19138):
32. Macmillan Magazines Ltd. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <http://www.lonkilgore.com/5093/selye_19138.pdf>.
Selye, Hans. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956. Print.