Monday, April 26, 2010

Baboons teach us about stress - Healthy Living (Stanford)

Thanks to a question at the Podcast Parlor I went to look for the answer to the question 'What do baboons tell us about stress?' Apart from a commercial podcast called MedPod101 (feed) which had a short introduction on the subject, with a promise to more I did not find anything. However, the MedPod101 issue about stress (download) referred to Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky as the source and this made me go search iTunesU.

On iTunesU I found Stanford's series Healthy Living in which Robert Sapolsky himself gives two lectures on stress. One telling why Zebras do not get ulcers and one relating what baboons teach us about stress. Sapolsky studied baboons in the field in Kenya for decades and his research on these primates taught him about stress among the apes many things that can be paralleled to humans. Not only do Baboons live under stress, they actually show stress related health problems that we know so well: high cholesterol, ulcers, heart disease and diabetes.

Here is how it works in a nut shell. Since baboons live in a strict hierarchy, being higher up is better for stress. When however, the hierarchy is threatened, the stress on top is just as bad. So, apart from being on top, it is best for a baboon to also have a good capacity to cope with stress. That is, to recognize stressful situation, react right and have an outlet. Sapolsky describes in detail what this means for baboons, but the bottom-line, that the more sociable ones are better at coping with stress, is easily translated to human society. As I would paraphrase Sapolsky: for your health it is best, first of all, not to be born poor, but beyond the poor line, you'd better be well socialized, have a good relationship, have friends and be around kids.

Check out the Healthy Living feed for many more interesting lectures on various subjects in medicine. (feed)

More Stanford:
Historical Jesus,
Global Geopolitics,
History of the International System,
Stem Cells - policy and ethics.
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