Can stress be considered beneficial?
Stress is defined as an environmental, physical and psychological pressure that evokes a response. It is usually referred to as a negative term, 'distress' in that an organism fails to respond appropriately however it can also promote an organism to strive in a positive manner, 'eustress' e.g. such as before an athlete enters a big game. Stress can be inflicted on a broad scale from a cellular level, to a social level. Depending on the organism/individual's perception, distress for one person could be eustress for another person. Stress is part of daily life, and particularly eustress seems to be an essential component, as exercise is to muscle.
Cellular response to stress is monitored on damaged macromolecules caused by environmental forces. The cell produces stress proteins, particularly minimal stress proteins have been found to be conserved in many organisms (Kultz D, 2005). The type of stress protein produced can define the type of response, whether it be response to stress of the cell cycle, DNA damage, sensing membrane lipids and proteins (Klutz D, 2005).
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Cells have a built in tolerance for stress, if their limits are exceeded they undergo apoptosis. Stress (such as cells exposed to mutation, deprivation of resources/nutrients or exposed to heat) is a positive regulator of apoptosis (Ferraro et al 2007). However oncogenic mutations caused by carcinogens for example can lead to cancerous cells that will override the cell death mechanism causing tumour due to uncontrolled proliferating cells. Although stress can cause cancer, stress managed in a different way has managed to reduce tumour mass in size on injected ascorbate, an oxidant (Chen et al 2008). This oxidative stress causes a toxin, hydrogen peroxide, to build up from oxygen radicals, which can elicit cell death (Chen et al 2008). This stress is used in a beneficial way and further development in this area could develop treatments in curing cancer.
As complex as the body may be it functions within narrow physiological stress limits. External or internal stresses result in particular adjustments. Certain stresses result in body endocrine system to secrete particular stress hormones such as catecholamine's form adrenal medulla and cortisol (Axelrod et al 1984). A particular process that has evolved to deal with stress is the flight or fight response. This is a type of eustress, that results in a cascade eventually leading to release of adrenaline and cortisol hormones which causes blood to divert blood to more vital organs and increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The out come can be beneficial however, in cases such as those resulting in stress ulcers it is not (Goligorsky M, 2001). The fight or flight response is also found in animal during a particularly stressful time, such as being preyed on. This response has helped evolve organism's reaction to situations due to the constant re-occurrence, just as brain training for increasing memory.
Stress can elicit positive affect on homeostasis causing it to increase. It has been found that stress can increase exchange of resources to help integrate organ relationship in animals (Klingenberg et al 2001). Wingfield et al (2003) found that stress increased interaction of reproductive system, which in turn helped to override stresses caused by low breeding opportunities. Stress has also been found to prevent acquisition of deleterious mutations in Escherichia coli (Kishony et al 2003). Stress has also been found to decrease homeostasis that cause an increased variation in a number of traits (Badyaev, 2004).
Stress has also been found to affect the immune system. Glaser et al (1995) found that stress slowed down the healing process of wounds for those who were caring for relatives with Alzheimer's than the controls that had the same income, age and were not carers. It has also been found that a significant percent of the population deal with perceived stresses in daily life by smoking and drinking. These in turn can cause adverse effects on the immune system, as shown by Steptoe et al (1994) where psychological stress has also found to increase risk and rate of the common cold. However there is evidence that stress in humans and animals can enhance immune functions as well as suppress, but this is dependent on the type of stress. A study on stress and immune relationship was carried out on students for a period of time up until the day before an exam and then after. It was found that students who were had a high stress perception had a significantly higher pro-inflammatory immune response and a low production of negative immune-regulatory cytokines compared to students who had a low stress perception (Maes et al ,1998).
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Work, finance and similar stresses that are part of everyday life have been on the rise over the past generations. Karoshi translated as 'death from over work' in Japan was a major problem in which people died from over working, affecting as young as 29 years of age. The intensity of stress due to high job strain and long hours resulted in cardiovascular disease. Since karoshi was identified studies in north America and western Europe were done and it was found significant correlation between health and job strain (nishiyama et al 1997). Since 1970s after the first case japan implemented prevention schemes.
Stress can help progress development and function of systems such as the immune and hormonal systems. It also can achieve integration of organ systems. Stress as a large environmental factor, has in the past played a significant role resulting in mass extinction. Stress can play a particular role in evolutionary changes in populations. Depending on the type, intensity, predictability and reoccurrence of stress, organism can develop tolerance or avoidance which can result in survival traits or extinction of a population. In conclusion it can be said that stress is beneficial in some circumstances, such as used to reduce tumours or in some individuals it allows them to strive in theur studies, however it can have serious implications that can result to death. Stress is needed for survival and for health benefits such as exercise, if stress is within limits it is beneficial. It would be impossible to live without it.
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