When is stress good for you?
McEwen (Bruce)
Source: Aeon, 11 July, 2017
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Conclusion

  1. These insights have led to a new view of epigenetic changes over the life course. Epigenetic changes determine trajectories of health and disease and the plasticity of the brain. But they also offer opportunities for changing the trajectory as life goes on.
  2. We can never roll back the clock and reverse the effects of experiences, positive or negative, or the epigenetic change they produce. But we can move through those experiences to recovery and redirection; also, we can develop resilience through epigenetic change. New trajectories can engender compensatory changes in the brain and body over the life course.
  3. This perspective has led to a new field of study, called ‘life course health development’ (LCHD), spearheaded by Neal Halfon, a researcher and paediatrician at the University of California, Los Angeles. LCHD emphasises the importance of events prior to conception and in the womb because of their ability to generate epigenetic change; for the same reason, LCHD looks to the influence of income, education and abuse.
  4. In synch with this, our increasing knowledge of brain plasticity is giving rise to therapies based on self-regulation. These cognitive techniques, tapping mindfulness, breathing and more, can reduce toxic stress to at least more tolerable stress. Metabolic and cardiovascular health, not to mention memory and mood, can all be enhanced by a healthy diet, positive social interactions, adequate sleep, and regular physical activity. Government policies and business cultures that promote these values are key – whether dealing with housing, transportation, healthcare, education, flexible working hours or vacations, decisions at the top can dramatically impact health-span of the population throughout life. Healthy behaviours and humanistic policies can ‘open a window’ of plasticity and allow the wisdom of the body to exert itself. With the windows open, targeted behavioural interventions – for instance, intensive physical therapy for stroke – can shape brain circuits in a more positive direction. Even if one has gotten off to a bad start in life, the trajectory can be changed by understanding how to lower the allostatic load and banish toxic stress.


Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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