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A fascinating tour of how stress impacts the body,
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This review is from: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Third Edition (Paperback)
This new edition of why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers is extensively revised and exceeds earlier additions in terms of explaining the effects of stress on the body. This is a very detailed exploration, but well worth the sometimes difficult reading. If you don't have some sort of background in biology, you may find that you have to read it a bit more slowly.
Sapolsky as always explains his topics very clearly and uses humor and good examples to illustrate important points. I particularly liked his analogy of two elephants on a teeter totter for the ways in which the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system can become imbalanced under chronic stress from being activated to frequently and where each is trying to compensate for the massive activation of the other in a vicious cycle.
Sapolosky also develops the implications of long term stress and explains the mechanisms involved in a lot of detail. He also explores how mechanisms that evolved to save our lives in actual life and death struggles can hurt us by being activated over things like traffic jams or missed deadlines.
An example that he uses in the book is that if you are a zebra with your guts dragging on the ground while you are being stocked by a predator, then maybe it's useful not to experience pain under stress. If you may not be alive in an hour, then shutting down long term building processes and depressing short term immunity makes sense as does a narrowing of the attention.
The author goes on to further explain in the example above that the real problem comes when the flight or fight response is triggered chronically and long term repair and important building projects like bolstering immunity are depressed for long periods of time. This example helped me to understand the logic of why our stress reactions work the way they do. The way I explained it was paraphrased from memory, but Sapolsky tells a story that makes sense and helps you to remember important points.
While I was reading this book, I could viscerally sense the kinds of things stress was doing to my body. The information and evidence presented here is very compelling. Sapolsky also looks at how stress is linked to cancer and other controversial topics. He sensitively explores all sides of the arguments and why direct causal links are so difficult to prove for things like cancer. On the other hand, he doesn't back off from looking at the implications of stress with respect to cancer or other difficult areas to research.
Sapolosky is not only a good scientist with excellent credentials, he is a very fine writer. I recommend this book without reservation to anyone who wants an in-depth knowledge of how stress affects the body.