Archived entries for Robert Sapolsky

don’t worry, be happy (or how i learned to stop worrying and love the food)

The more I read Sapolsky’s book, the more I realize that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” should be everyone’s theme song or else we are all going to die of stress-related illnesses.

I guess that’s why the song was the first one I listened to after setting up my computer in SD – a hefty combination of reading Sapolsky on the plane and landing in a place with perfect weather and swaying palm trees. My subconscious was like, “Genna, we’re getting this summer off right, and you’re going to be relaxed.” Before I proceed into the intended topic of this post, I want to mention two anecdotes about my experience with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and its artist, Bobby McFerrin.

1) Freshman year, I was seeing the Philly-based “Viking vaudeville, manic Gypsy jazz” band Man Man play at their album release show. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the apt description.) After the second opener played, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” came on the loudspeaker. Also at this time, the venue’s management finally kicked on the fans, truly needed at the packed concert. The combination of the song and the fans made me feel a lot better, allowing me to mentally prepare for the headliner. But then “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” played again. And again, ad nauseum. Seriously, eight or so times on involuntary repeat is not the way to enjoy this McFerrin classic. I would not be surprised if it actually caused some audience members to lose their dinner.

2) Bobby McFerrin was one of the panelists of the “Notes and Neurons: In Search of a Common Chorus,” one of the events of the 2009 World Science Festival, joining the stage with host John Scaefer, Jamshed Barucha (current Tufts University Provost and a psychologist who studies cognitive neuroscience and music perception), Daniel Levitin (Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience at McGill University whose research on music is widely published), Lawrence Parsons (Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield). He demonstrates the universality of the pentatonic scale with an audience demonstration that I watch at least once a month because it is so cool.

And now a return to stress eating…

Sapolsky describes that stress effects food consumption, fat distribution, the health of the gastrointestinal tract, and ulcer formation. All things considered, he paints a pretty grim picture, one that I will try to summarize here.

Stress  makes two-thirds of people hyperphagic, marked by increased eating during periods of stress, and one-third of people hypophagic, marked by loss of appetite. Different stressors cause different responses, and these contribute to the demonstrated difference in eating behavior. Also, despite the stress response involving the same hormones regardless of individual, differences in each body’s physiological and psychological reactions to stress contribute to the divide between those who find comfort in an eating frenzy versus those who engage in a self-induced famine.

The first hormone released during the stress response is CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone); among other things, it is an appetite suppressor. It starts the chemical cascade that results in the release of glucocorticoids, a hormone that stimulates appetite. CRH surges the blood stream within seconds of a stressor, but it takes many minutes for glucocorticoid levels to enter the bloodstream. Also, it takes merely seconds for CRH to be cleared from the bloodstream while glucocorticoids can linger around for hours.  Frequent intermittent stressors, the kind that plague our lives, are the type of stress that most contributes to hyperphagia, so it is understandable that stress-eating has become such a casual part of the cultural vocabulary of food.

Sapolsky offers examples of the factors that contribute to these individual differences. Some people, for example, are glucocorticoid hypersecretors, and they are predisposed to experience hyperphagia after a period of stress. They produce greater levels of glucocorticoids in their bloodstream after experiencing stress as well as a greater preference for sweets. Another factor is an individual’s attitude towards eating. Sapolsky describes literature that shows that “restrained” eaters, or those who are trying to actively diet, are more likely to be hyperphagic. He explains how logical this is: when these individuals are stressed out, they ease up on something that they often keep highly regimented.

More to come on the other topics he covers (body shape, etc.). For now, I’m headed to the beach!

it tastes of california sunshine

I just returned from one of the most fulfilling afternoons for my foodie self at Hillcrest Farmer’s Market, about a 18 minute drive away from my digs here in Scripps Ranch. In this post, I will record my purchases. In the next, I will outline some of the major points Robert Sapolsky makes in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers about stress and food consumption because although it is not directly relevant to the project with the babies, it resonates with a lot of people nowadays so I figure it worthy for the blog.

My purchases

-4 organic fennel bulbs, for 2 fennel fontina pizzas I’m going to make tomorrow in honor of Penny’s birthday (link is to my food blog, a collaborative effort with Scott Schnur ’10 over the course of the Spring 2010 semester)

-1 container of peanut butter hummus (yes, such a thing exists; so glad the stars aligned that way)

-lots of heirloom zucchini and summer squash for a vegetable lasagna I will also make tomorrow

-1 bunch of organic basil

-6 pluots (plum-apricot hybrid) that my taste buds forced me to buy after trying a sample

-1/2 pound of dried apricots, California style; was turned on to these by Harper Hubbeling ’11 freshman year, who taught me the proper pronunciation and mouthfeel of the dried delicacy; was informed by the saleswoman today that they taste of California sunshine

-2 bunches of candy-striped beets*

-1 container of cilantro-, chile- and garlic-ridden labneh (cannot wait to make sandwiches; yum)

-1 handcrafted ring featuring a stone of which I forget the name (I’ll ask them next time I go, in T-168 hours), fit to size in front of my eyes on a ring stretcher made in 1921

-1 organic iced coffee with soy milk and agave nectar that did not stand a chance against my thirst/fatigue

-1 spicy mushroom/garlic gourmet tamale that did not stand a chance against my hunger (finally, I know what Adam Mayer ’10 has been talking about regarding Mexican food on the West Coast-sorry any other Mexican food I’ve ever eaten; I would have eaten the husk if it were edible, I swear; no more California dreamin’)

-2 green glass tumblers made from recycled wine bottles for Jay ’73 and Penny as a sign of my gratitude, in honor of Penny’s upcoming birthday, and because I wanted to add to their collection of incredible cups (Jay blows glass, see below)

*P.S. In the spirit of eating healthily, not wasting food, and loving to cook things I’ve never cooked before, I asked what to do with radish leaves. The man I asked relayed my question to his son who was about my age who asked first if I was raw, vegan, vegetarian, etc. before he proceeded. His suggestion was to wash the leaves, spread them some tahini, hummus, or nut spread of my choice, pan-fry them, and enjoy. Nom x 1,000,000.

Stress 101

While I was waiting for my parents to pick me at Haverford, I started reading Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert Sapolsky, a book Ani assigned to me to introduce some of the concepts we would be dealing with this summer. I haven’t gotten far yet, but the entertaining and approachable writing makes me excited about progressing through the book.

The beginning of the book had already altered the way I think about stress. Sapolsky remarks that the stress-response is the set of bodily reactions that is intended to help the body return to homeostasis after experience of or in anticipation of a stressor. Most humans have very few of the acute and chronic physical stressors that plague animals like having to hunt their food, but all animals have adapted ways to effectively cope with these stressors. Much of human stress is chronic psychological and social turmoil that never manifests physically, and this tends to lead to physical illness. The energy that is expended on the stress response cannot contribute to development and maintenance of other vital bodily functions like the immune system.

The directly relates to the population of babies that I will be working with this summer because the stress of cardiac surgery and of constant NICU stimuli effects their growth and development. Music certainly has the potential to reduce stress, and stress reduction is particularly important for babies, especially those that are at risk. And now, a lullaby rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.

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