Stress: The Silent Killer Part II

David Ajibade, MBBS (MD), MMGT

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Job Title / Position: Author, Speaker, Educator, Co-Founder, Building Strength, LLC

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Notes from documentary on stress

Effects of stress on the body:

  • It kills brain cells, causing the shrinking of our brains
  • Adds fat to our bellies
  • When stressed, the body begins shutting down all non essential systems, including the immune system.
  • Unravels some of our chromosomes by damaging telomeresInteresting discovery from studying baboons:
  • A baboon’s rank determined the level of stress hormones in his body. In other words, if you are a dominant or alpha male, your levels will be lower than if you’re a submissive one.
  • Increased stress hormone levels results in increased heart rates and blood pressure, decreased immunity and decreased reproductive ability. 

Study of Macao Monkeys

  1. The arterial wall of a subordinate monkey has much more artherosclerosis than that of a dominant one.
  2. The parts of the brain associated with pleasure are LIT UP in dominant monkeys. Brains of subordinates are very dull. Remember dopamine!
  3. Subordinate monkeys are more likely to have fat in their abdomen than dominant monkeys are.


Stress affects the developing fetus as well:

Babies conceived during famine (famine caused by war, for example) had, in later life, an increased risk of heart disease and hypercholesterolemia (excess cholesterol in the system) and have poorer health than those conceived after it.



Stress Among Caregivers:

The stress that arises from taking care of loved ones with problems – aged parents, children with disabilities, for example

  • The length of the telomeres directly relates to the amount of stress someone is under, and the number of years they have suffered from it. Mothers of young children are generally a highly stressed group.
  • Mothers of children with special needs are stressed even more, and have even more shortening of their telomeres.
  • It has been shown that for every year of taking care of a special needs child, you have roughly six years’ worth of aging.


  • Telomerase, which the body produces


How can the body to produce more telomerase?

  1. Social support (connecting with and helping others)
  2. Laughter/humor
  3. Compassion and caring for others


Effects of Chronic Stress on Brain Cells:

lt is not only your fat cells that wind up being vulnerable to events like this, it’s your brain chemistry:

  • It’s your capacity to learn as an adult
  • It’s your capacity to respond to stress adaptively rather than maladaptively
  • How readily you fall into depression
  • How vulnerable you are to psychiatric disorders
  • Stress changes brain circuits so that we lose the capacity to remember things as we need to.
  • Stress makes it impossible to remember things for a short period of time – things that you know perfectly well. 

Whitehall study:

This is an interesting study done in London, England, years ago that investigated social determinants of health, specifically the cardiorespiratorydisease prevalence and mortality rates among British civil servants between the ages of 20 and 64.

The Whitehall cohort studies found a strong association between grade levels of civil servant employment and mortality rates from a range of causes. Men in the lowest grade (messengers, doorkeepers, etc.) had a mortality rate three times higher than that of men in the highest grade (administrators).

  • Followed 28,000 people over 40 years
  • Showed link between stress, one’s position in the hierarchy, and how you put on weight…and not just weight, but also the distribution – where the fat is actually deposited. (Yes, they are now finding out that stress can actually change the way you deposit fat in your body.)

Conclusion of Whitehall study:

The conditions in which people live and work are ABSOLUTELY VITAL TO THEIR HEALTH AND LONGEVITY.

The importance of control: having a degree of control over one’s career or job (sense of fairness, justice, etc) is vital to good health.

The antidote to Stress (from Whitehall Chief Researcher)

Control, or the amount of control is intimately related to where you are in the occupational hierarchy. And what we have found is that, in general, when people report to us that things have gotten worse, that the amount of work stress has gone up, that their illness rates go up.

When people report to us that they have more control; that they are being treated more fairly at work, there’s more justice in the amount of treatment, that things are getting better, the amount of illness goes down.

The Answer?

GIVE PEOPLE MORE INVOLVEMENT IN THEIR WORK; GIVE THEM MORE SAY IN WHAT THEY’RE DOING; GIVE THEM REWARDS COMMENSURATE WITH THE AMOUNT OF EFFORT THEY PUT OUT, and this might lead, not only to a healthier work place, but to a more productive workplace as well.

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