Stress! Stress!! STRESS!!!

People often talk about the stress in their daily lives from work, school or personal situations.  Interestingly, the word “stress” was never used in a physiological sense until it was coined in the 1920s by Hans Selye, whose birthday was celebrated yesterday.

As a medical student, Selye noticed that patients with different diseases often displayed identical symptoms.  He theorized a “General Adaptation Syndrome” by which the body responds to a demand, whether that demand is a cause or effect, and whether it results from something good or something bad.

This biological response has three stages: alarm, resistance and exhaustion.  It can lead to ulcers, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, kidney disease and allergic reactions.

Selye’s choice of the word “stress” was an error.  (In physics, “stress” actually refers to elasticity.)  Selye, a non-native English speaker who knew eight languages, actually meant to use a term more like “strain.”  But “stress” entered the vocabulary, creating a challenge for translators.  The French invented a new word, “le stress.”  In Japanese, the characters “ストレス” are phonetically pronounced “su-to-re-su.”

Selye himself struggled to define what “stress” actually was.  As one observer noted, “Stress, in addition to being itself, is also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.”

What’s the best way to counteract stress?  Meditation.

While much of Selye’s original theory was later shown to be incorrect, he paved the way for subsequent studies.  Scientists using Agilent equipment continue to research the physiological effects of stress:

Researchers in Germany have demonstrated that chronic stress can significantly alter the effectiveness of clomipramine, a therapeutic widely used to treat depression and other psychiatric disorders.  (Agilent liquid chromatograph.)

Researchers in Japan have identified ophthalmic acid as a possible biomarker for oxidative stress.  Oxidative stress is the imbalance between oxygen free radicals and antioxidant defenses.  (Agilent capillary electrophoresis system, LC/MSD TOF, HPLC and ChemStation software.)

Researchers in Spain have investigated the effect of broccoli sprout consumption on oxidative stress and inflammation.  They found that while eating broccoli lowers biomarkers for inflammation, it does not reduce biomarkers for stress.  (Agilent UHPLC/MS/MS, Triple-Quad/MS/MS, columns and MassHunter software.)

Stress can affect other life forms as well.  Another team of researchers in Japan demonstrated that plants modify their gene expression in response to environmental stresses such as drought, cold and high salinity.  (Agilent DNA microarrays.)


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