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Stress and Neural Wreckage: Part of the Brain Plasticity Puzzle

Victoria Crater MarsEdi­tor’s Note: Below you have a very insight­ful arti­cle on stress by Gre­go­ry Kel­let, a researcher at UCSF. Enjoy!

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My brain is fried, toast, fraz­zled, burnt out. How many times have you said or heard one ver­sion or anoth­er of these state­ments. Most of us think we are being fig­u­ra­tive when we utter such phras­es, but research shows that the bio­log­i­cal con­se­quences of sus­tained high lev­els of stress may have us being more accu­rate than we would like to think.

Crash Course on Stress

Our bod­ies are a com­plex bal­anc­ing act between sys­tems work­ing full time to keep us alive and well. This bal­anc­ing act is con­stant­ly adapt­ing to the myr­i­ad of changes occur­ring every sec­ond with­in our­selves and our envi­ron­ments. When it gets dark our pupils dilate, when we get hot we sweat, when we smell food we sali­vate, and so forth. This con­stant bal­anc­ing act main­tains a range of sta­bil­i­ty in the body via change; and is often referred to as allosta­sis. Any change which threat­ens this bal­ance can be referred to as allo­sta­t­ic load or stress.

Allo­sta­t­ic load/stress is part of being alive. For exam­ple just by get­ting up in the morn­ing, we all expe­ri­ence a very impor­tant need to increase our heart rate and blood pres­sure in order to feed our new­ly ele­vat­ed brain. Although usu­al­ly man­age­able, this is a change which the body needs to adapt to and, by our def­i­n­i­tion, a stres­sor.

Stress is only a prob­lem when this allo­sta­t­ic load becomes over­load. When change is exces­sive or Read the rest of this entry »

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