Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stressed Out

Research continues to show that a lower social status can be bad for your health. In a recent publication Changes in Social Status Seen in Gene Regulation in Monkeys scientists are closer then ever to defining why. Most anthropologists and psychologists that focus on this area often use the famous Whitehall studies from British civil servants as a cornerstone of their argument. The research dramatically found that wealthier, busier, more stressed senior executives actually lived healthier lives than junior and entry-level employees. This study is so interesting because all civil servants in Britain have equal healthcare access. With this reality, research has moved slightly away from looking at access to care across social classes, and focusing on genetic and behavioral explanations. 


Interestingly, primates are often studied to understand the link between social status and happiness, health, quality of life, etc. For example, primates at the lower end of the social “pecking” order have a higher risk of disease than those at the head of the pack. A University of Chicago team recently segmented a group of primates from both ends of the social spectrum and analyzed their cellular activity. They identified roughly 987 genes that were expressed differently between high and low status monkeys. 


What does this mean for all of us (humans)? Can we imagine that there is an actual difference in gene expression between our CEOs, policemen, receptionists, athletes, and janitors? What does this say about how much mental control we have over our health? Can stresses of the lower class directly lead to health problems? With the recent healthcare changes in the US and Obamacare, it is hard to imagine better access to health services won’t make a difference. But, clearly pieces of this research show that perhaps the way we "feel" and internalize our place in the world is potentially more powerful. 

For further interest or to learn more, please visit the following link Stress Response: Savior to Killer or watch the full National Geographic Episode on Stress: Portrait of a Killer on Netflix!!!

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