BEIJING, Jan. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- Want to cause your
gums to deteriorate, as well as your heart, and be susceptible to illnesses from
the common cold to cancer? Worry about your health.
That's the answer according to a review essay in the
Dec. 27 issue of the Association for Psychological Science's magazine Observer
that reveals new research crossing the disciplines of psychology, medicine,
neuroscience and genetics, the mechanisms underlying stress are rapidly becoming
Growing evidence shows our sensitivity to stress as
adults is already "tuned," so to speak, in infancy, according to the review
article. Specifically, the amount of stress encountered in early life sensitizes
an organism to a certain level of adversity; high levels of early life stress
may result in hypersensitivity to stress later, as well as to adult depression.
This is likely because animals raised in chronically adverse conditions (e.g.,
high conflict, material deprivation) may expect more of the same in the near
future, and their bodies must quickly adjust.
Some people, and animals, are more prone to stress,
research shows. A 2007 study found that mice who tended to stress out produced
too much of a certain protein, which apparently caused them to overreact.
Besides heart disease, posttraumatic stress disorder
and depression, chronic stress has been linked to ailments as diverse as
intestinal problems, gum disease, erectile dysfunction, growth problems and even
cancer. One study found that people who experience high amounts of stress at
work are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
Recent research also showed that a stress hormone
could cause skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema. Chronic rises in stress
hormones have been shown to accelerate the growth of precancerous cells and
tumors; they also lower the body's resistance to HIV and cancer-causing viruses
like human papilloma virus (the precursor to cervical cancer in women).
According to Stanford neuroendocrinologist Robert
Sapolsky, who has studied stress in baboon troops, it is the relative safety
from predators and high amounts of leisure time enjoyed by some primates ¡ª
including humans ¡ª that has transformed these useful biological coping
mechanisms into a source of pointless suffering and illness.