Stress vaccine a possibility

Californian scientists believe they are on the point of a breakthrough in developing an anti-stress vaccine that with a single injection will relax us without slowing us down.

Dr Robert Sapolsky believes that he can now alter brain chemistry to create a “focussed calm”.

This genetically engineered alternative to yoga and pills works on the part of the immune system which is weakened by the hormones produced by stress.

Using a modified herpes virus to transport modified genes into the brain the virus short-circuits the neural feedback caused by stress so you don’t have lingering feelings of tension and will be less likely to continue to snap at people after a stressful event.

Given that most experts agree that stress has increased with the recession and that it can have serious ill-health consequences there is likely to be a high demand for such a panacea.

So far it works in rats, whether or not it will work on people – and whether that is even desirable given that stress symptoms are a way of telling you something is wrong – is yet to be proved but the scientists are optimistic.

Shortly after my original post there was a long piece in the Times Body & Soul section described Sapolsky’s work in more detail which also cited the Whitehall study of 28,000 civil servants over the last 25 years.

The headline results of that study were that civil servants at the bottom of the pecking order were four times more likely to die prematurely than those at the top of the pecking order. Usually this is put down to people at the top of organisations having more control and autonomy than those at the bottom.

The author of the piece, John Naish, however referred to there being two types of stress – good stress for people at the top of the pyramid and bad stress for those at the bottom (perhaps like Selye’s  early work on dystress and eustress).

Stress experts like Professor Cary Cooper however, prefer to distinguish between pressure, which can be motivating and energising, and stress, which is bad for you in the long term

Naish also asks the question of whether or not one vaccine will work for different kinds of stress? That is the wrong question however. My concern is that stress, however it is defined, has a useful purpose ( a bit like the old joke about death being nature’s way of telling you to slow down).  Although chronic stress lowers your immune defences acute stress may actually prime your immune system for you.

As neuroscientist Professor Stafford Lightman says; “The problems (an inoculation) could cause are obvious when you meet people who are so laid-back that they don’t do anything”. And “rust out” can be just as bad for you as “burnout”

Based on a post from EI4U

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