July 31, 2010 1:40 AM   Subscribe

Under Pressure
posted by homunculus at 1:42 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hope there is someone there in the research lab shouting at the scientists COME ON WE NEED THAT STRESS VACCINE NOW NOW NOW PEOPLE ARE STRESSED OUT THERE WHAT IS THE HOLD UP COME ON NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW, to encourage them.
posted by No-sword at 2:23 AM on July 31, 2010 [23 favorites]

Under Pressure

This song makes me stress.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:29 AM on July 31, 2010

Under Pressure.
posted by koeselitz at 3:29 AM on July 31, 2010

They should meet up with the guys doing the medical marijuana programme...
posted by quarsan at 3:31 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

The part about the actual stress vaccine (and it is an actual vaccine, as skeptical as I was about the title) is down at the very end of the article, and it's fascinating. The rest is mostly "stress is bad for you," but then it talks about how (and why) a herpes virus is genetically modified to infect an organism's brain and protect it from the negative consequences of stress. It's amazing what biology can do these days — science in general, really — and the future, as always, will be an interesting place. Thanks for the link, homunculus.
posted by whatnotever at 3:42 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stress is interesting.

I used to think that stress was my friend. It made me more alert. I used to drink a lot of coffee and play video games, because I liked the stressful intensity of the experience.

But now I'm old, and I totally reject stress. I don't even want other people to have stress. There should be a cure for stress.

In my worst nightmares, there really is a stress vaccine, but it must be administered as an anal suppository. Furthermore, we'd like to give you the suppository in the operating room. We're a medical hospital, so we'd like your permission to allow medical students to observe the injection. Now, please relax, because we really do think that we have a cure for your stress, provided you are willing to have a room full of strangers let us stick something up your ass.

Just the thought of a stress vaccine makes me relax.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:50 AM on July 31, 2010

The irony is that a bunch of researchers and research assistants are probably very stressed out about all this.
posted by Alterscape at 4:07 AM on July 31, 2010

I already regularly consume a Brain Energy/Efficiency Reducer when I am stressed in order to mitigate these negative effects.
posted by srboisvert at 4:36 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whenever I'm stressed, I go outside and spin around like I was a kid on the playground.

Then I go back inside and throw up on whatever is stressing me out.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:03 AM on July 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Stress is not a disease.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:03 AM on July 31, 2010

Stress is a disease.

But it's the only disease you'll yell at other people for your having it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:12 AM on July 31, 2010

Stress is not a disease.

I'm asking sincerely: what do you mean by this?

The article mentions that chronic stress affects brain function in a way that has similar characteristics to those observed in neurodegenerative diseases, that high stress levels increase the incidence of cardiovascular disease, and even that the effects of stress can be transmitted from a mother to a child.

What distinction are you making here?
posted by surenoproblem at 6:29 AM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

When will we wise up and start preventing things instead of "curing" them?
posted by sunshinesky at 6:30 AM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Yeah man, sorry I sideswiped you at that intersection. My fault entirely."

"It's quite allright; after years of extensive rehabilitation, my family'll be just fine."

"Good point. Should I call an ambulance, then?"

"Yeah,... yeah, I suppose... I guess that would be a good idea, I seem to be losing a lot of blood."

"Cool. Nice to meet you, by the way; My name's Tim."

"Nice to meetcha, Tim, I'm Sara. Here, use my cell."
posted by not_on_display at 6:46 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

To quote the article, "On one hand, stress can be described as a cultural condition, a byproduct of a society that leaves some people in a permanent state of unease. But that feeling can also be measured in the blood and urine, quantified in terms of glucocorticoids and norepinephrine and adrenal hormones."

After looking at one hand Lehrer fails to offer a real second hand. Just because we can measure it in terms of physiology doesn't make it not a cultural condition. We can measure a lot of societal problems this way, water pollution, malnutrition, war casualties, but that doesn't set the center on the mercury laced fish, starvation, or collapsed sewer in question. It didn't cause itself. To quote Sapolsky from the article, "If stress is half as bad for you as we currently think it is, then it’s time to stop treating the side effects. It’s time to go after stress itself." The stress is the side effect. It isn't that some sort of stress virus is exchanged via unclean hands and you can pick it up at the dollar store if you work there long enough. It is a response to the environment, it is a societal side effect. The article goes on as if it were studying the fish in question in shocking disgusted perplexity: the fish has so much mercury in it, how could a fish be so cruel to us to try to poison us, the fish even poisons itself by being reacting to polluted waters this way. Mercury poisoning is just chemistry in the end. The starvation in the world could be cured by curing this need for sustenance thing. It is only physiology after all. If only we had fish that did not have fat in which to hold metal, then they could survive their environment and we could keep eating them. Sewer collapse during bombings is just an architectural problem after all. Bomb-proof sewer systems! We've been acting like everything we do is consequence free, so let's just cure the consequences. To push the point, let's compare and contrast chronic stress to the epidemic of limb loss in early industrial era factory workers. How again was that cured? Let's go all the way into hyperbole now: how was slave beating basically eradicated in America? Did we make the slaves grow tougher skin and bones so that they could survive their conditions, giving them all little smallpox shots and sending them on their way while we did nothing different. Actually, what am I saying? We did try that with all the creepy as fuck slave breeding, but where would we be if slave eugenics succeeded? I guess sipping the sun tea brought by Jeffery and enjoying the view from the veranda while we type on Metafilter. That sounds alright. I don't know, ok, let's cure it.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:35 AM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since you asked, sunshinesky, what do you think is more likely to happen in, say, a decade?

A: Creation of a vaccine to protect against the harmful biological degradation of stress
B: Reworking all of civilization such that nobody ever feels coerced, helpless, or lesser than anyone else, ever again, abolishing all status and heartbreak?

Gotta say, if someone sent in a grant on Proposal B, I'm sure it would be giggleworthy.
posted by adipocere at 7:38 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reworking all of civilization such that nobody ever feels coerced, helpless, or lesser than anyone else, ever again, abolishing all status and heartbreak?

Well minimizing if not eliminating coercion, helplessness and status are like the implicit project of more than a few political movements. I can count about six with such aims. I recall one from long ago that was called liberalism.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:47 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm for harm-reduction in terms of a prevention method here.

I understand that to prevent stress on a large scale we'd have to overhaul a lot of our systems, and that's certainly a tall order. Point is, I'd rather be chipping away at that rather than developing a vaccine that will allow us to justify continuing on the way we're going. Working 40h work weeks plus 1h commutes each way with a measly two week annual vacation just to pay off our student loans over 15 years doesn't seem right. Implying that it needs to be this way just because it would be hard to change is just plain counterproductive.

Me? I don't do stress. I take what I need and leave the rest. I think greed is a big contributing factor here, but that's just an opinion.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:03 AM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Reworking all of civilization such that nobody ever feels coerced, helpless, or lesser than anyone else, ever again, abolishing all status and heartbreak?

Ah, that would be the "Work Vaccine" that the recently-elected British government is developing. The innoculation is simple and physically painless - it consists of everyone being sent up shit creek without a paddle.
posted by MajorDundee at 8:05 AM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't know if I'm stressed or not at all stressed anymore. On one hand, I'm completely unconcerned with anything at all. On the other hand, I have chronic back pain at 22.

I am a superposition of stress.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2010

Sure, a stress treatment will improve lives. It will also, in the long run, make a lot of lives worse. Every so often, I think of, and dread, the eventual invention of a pill or vaccine for sleep. As soon as it becomes medically possible and cost-effective to market a substitute for sleep, it is only a matter of time before sleep is a forgotten luxury. It will belong only to the very poor and the very, very rich.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:20 AM on July 31, 2010

Interesting that they would be working so hard on this when there seems to be a very effective stress vaccine on the market right now.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:56 AM on July 31, 2010

So the solution is to be living life in a way that is satisfying and gives control (being rich or being the boss probably helps with this),

or to have your brain injected with a modified herpes virus.

I guess if you are going to be stressed out anyway, you might as well reduce the health consequences.
posted by eye of newt at 9:08 AM on July 31, 2010

An interesting point from the article is that not all stress is bad; people who have stressful jobs but also a lot of power or status or who delight in what they do seem to live longer despite their lifestyle, presumably because they are making other chemicals which offset the stress chemicals.
posted by localroger at 9:15 AM on July 31, 2010

Chris, you've invented... a marvelous drug, and right now only certain people can have access. We think that everyone should have access to it. Like ghetto children. Apparently their lives are horrible. Did you read that thing in the Times? You want ghetto children to be happy, don't you, Chris?
posted by condour75 at 9:47 AM on July 31, 2010

After looking at one hand Lehrer fails to offer a real second hand. Just because we can measure it in terms of physiology doesn't make it not a cultural condition.

That was my thought as well. Sometime in the last two years or so I read an article in the...NYT? I think? about a study of kids growing up in poverty; apparently (surprise!) the stress of growing up in poverty affects kids' brains, and actually seems to make kids dumber. Awesome.

I don't think a vaccine would really help that situation.
posted by rtha at 10:31 AM on July 31, 2010

Interesting that they would be working so hard on this when there seems to be a very effective stress vaccine on the market right now.

Really? And it doesn't have a dulling side effect? Because that's the only way it could be useful to me. I need to be stress free AND have a sharp mind. Most of the anti-stress drugs I've tried have made it harder for me to do my job (programming). I know I couldn't program if I was high.
posted by grumblebee at 10:43 AM on July 31, 2010

I don't think a vaccine would really help that situation.

Actually, it would theoretically. The cognitive deficit of the childhood poverty, if it is caused by stress solely, would be minimized and it would probably help them a great deal in school. They'll still be unable to afford fresh vegetables, higher education, health care, or have access to the quality of schooling found in high property value regions. They'll still be emotionally traumatized by the trials of their legal guardians, and in school they'll still suffer the social injuries of 'not having' when others do. This is all without mentioning the potential confusion of correlation and causation, the stress and cognitive deficits may merely be co-morbid. But yeah, they would enjoy restful sleep at night, a loyal attention span, and do better on tests. It would be a helluva blessing for them, a real chance at optimism that isn't choked by stress, it would be wonderful-- if they could afford it. Shit, our nations' under and lower classes would be high on Provigil, and Wellbutrin through the week to get through their shit if we lived in a society where such things were equally available and known about. There are friends of mine in and out of welfare out here that have never even heard of SSRIs except on the television, they don't know what they are. It is like what weak people in the cities take or something. It isn't like they could afford them anyway so they stick with amphetamines to work through their shitty jobs. Stress vaccines would be great, but they would still just be the same as the amphetamines, self-medication to treat the symptoms.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:58 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

But maybe I am blowing this out of proportion. Maybe we need a stress vaccine to be capable of not needing a stress vaccine. Like smallpox! Or maybe the movie Equilibrium. Gun Kata was pretty cool.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:05 AM on July 31, 2010

Maybe we need a stress vaccine to be capable of not needing a stress vaccine.

I have a big problem with stress, so I asked my doctor to proscribe Xanax. He did, and it works really well for me. But I'm not crazy about taking drugs, so I take it maybe twice a year. And now my stress is WAY lower just because I have the bottle of Xanax in my pocket. Because I know I CAN take it if thing get too bad.
posted by grumblebee at 11:19 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

A medicine like this will just let bitches continue to be bitches—and give them one more thing to be judgmental about.

Superior: "Oh, Miz Limeonaire, are you feeling bad today? Did you forget to take your stress pill? Now, now, that's no way to be; here, have some M&Ms to tide you over. Can I get you an overpriced sandwich I'll be sure to remind you you owe me money for later?"

Subordinate: [through clenched teeth] You know, I'm actually on a diet. And I can't afford stress pills. But thank you, just the same.
posted by limeonaire at 11:24 AM on July 31, 2010

They'll still be unable to afford fresh vegetables

Christ, Can we please stop perpetuating the myth that fresh foods are expensive?

(yes, I know they take more effort, time=money and all that, but it really doesn't help when people think that eating fresh foods is out of their budget)
posted by sunshinesky at 11:59 AM on July 31, 2010

Once the stress vaccine is perfected, ones for maladjustment, bad attitude and "the Mondays" will not be far behind.
posted by klarck at 12:07 PM on July 31, 2010

surenoproblem: What distinction are you making here?

I'm not TwelveTwo, and I'm also not entirely against looking at stress as a disease in some situations, but for the sake of discussion I think a useful distinction might be to think of disease as a state of unhealth usually caused by pathogens, and to think of stress as an emotional response to untoward conditions that can have physical consequences. Neither is exclusive of the other (disease may cause stress, and stress can invite disease) but they seem distinct enough to keep them separate for the sake of clarity.

Personally, though I happily do as much as possible to prevent disease in my life, I doubt would ever inoculate myself against stress, keen as I am to avoid it. Stress is too useful to me as a barometer for undesirable situations, and it behooves me to feel uneasy when these situations occur just as it does certain animals mentioned in the article (those that instinctively avoided open spaces for fear of predators before Dr. Sapolsky injected them with a modified herpes virus).

While I generally admire Dr. Sapolsky's research, if he wants to "attack the condition head-on," I don't agree that a stress vaccine is the way to go about it. We need to learn the skills to manage stress or else avoid it, and this is something that must be approached both individually and culturally. I don't have the credentials of Dr. Sapolsky to reinforce my opinion, but my intuition tells me that though stress is an enormous health issue, the absence of stress has the potential to be a greater social issue. Consider the amount of unpleasantness we as a species are willing to suffer despite stress, and then imagine what we would subject ourselves to if stress were no consideration.
posted by millions at 12:20 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Once the stress vaccine is perfected, ones for maladjustment, bad attitude and "the Mondays" will not be far behind.

Can I have an ETA on these? The suspense is killing me.
posted by Splunge at 12:42 PM on July 31, 2010

Great post.

I think Sapolsky is just not very sharp:

In the early 1980s, he happened upon a rare event in the baboon troop: The highest-ranking female and a low-ranking female gave birth to daughters just a few days apart. Sapolsky realized that these newcomers would allow him to compare the effects of social status on development. The first thing he noticed was that the high-ranking daughter hit every developmental landmark faster. She walked first, ate solid food earlier, and had far more interactions with other baboons. The lesson, Sapolsky says, is that “status comes with privileges,” and these privileges are present from the start of life.

Sapolsky describes a poignant scene that took place a few weeks after the births, when the newborns encountered each other for the first time. “They can barely get around, but they’re both so excited to see another baby,” he says. “And so the low-ranking kid goes wobbling over to say hi. But then, just as she gets near, the low-ranking mom grabs her daughter and drags her back. The poor kid has no idea what’s happened, but she’s just gotten her first lesson in the social hierarchy. The high-ranking kid is not somebody she can play with.”

For Sapolsky, the tragedy of such interactions is their lasting legacy. “I can come back 25 years later, when these kids are two old matriarchs, and they’ll be acting out the exact same dynamic. When they meet, the low-ranking baboon will just stare at the ground. That’s what her mom was trying to teach her. She was being taught how to live with low rank. She was learning how to cope.”

He completely misses the significance of his own observation here.

Why would it be very rare for a high-ranking and-low ranking baboon to give birth at the same time? It would certainly increase the fitness of the low-ranking baboon-- if she could get away with it.

But the fact is she can't, because of the prevalence of infanticide among baboons.

And whose offspring is more likely to be murdered? Let me give you a hint, it's not the offspring of high-ranking individuals.

So what's really happening in this touching vignette where Sapolsky seems to lose all capacity to distinguish between life in a baboon troop and a suburban birthday party for two year olds?

Very simple: the low-ranking female is doing what she can to keep her baby out of the reach of a higher-ranking individual in whose interest it is to kill that baby. (I think it's no coincidence in this regard her baby is female, since that reduces the interest higher-ranking males would have in killing it.)

But she probably will not (did not, that is) succeed in the long run.
posted by jamjam at 2:19 PM on July 31, 2010

It is important to understand that the vaccine is not for stress itself, it is to prevent the bad health effects caused by stress.

Yes, you can work on the stress itself, but, just as with these baboons, stress is often unavoidable. If you have small kids, yet are barely surviving in a dead end job with a nasty boss and an abusive spouse, and maybe you live in a crime ridden neighborhood, and what the heck, let's go all out, though still well within the realm of possibility: maybe you have an older kid off at war in Iraq, and a parent who just died and the other has Alzheimers, and your siblings hate you. Then maybe all the various tricks to reduce stress are just not going to work. A vaccine that could help prevent your body from falling apart as a result of all this stress would be a good thing, no?

Not that I would be the first in line to try a vaccine injected into my brain.
posted by eye of newt at 2:49 PM on July 31, 2010

Also, it seems completely absurd and even deliberately misleading to me to call Sapolsky's approach a "vaccine" when it's actually merely a subcategory of gene therapy, using the conventional tools of gene therapy.

A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism, and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe or its toxins. The agent stimulates the body's immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and "recognize" it, so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters.

Gene therapy is the insertion of genes into an individual's cell and biological tissues to treat disease...

The motivation, of course, is to avoid the bad reputation of gene therapy, and take advantage of people's favorable view of vaccination.
posted by jamjam at 5:43 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know, this reminds me of something I've been curious about for a long time. It's well-proven at this point that many primates live in hierarchies where the low-ranking members suffer from constant stress that shortens their lives. But what about dogs and wolves? What's different about their brain chemistry? A dog gets stressed when it doesn't know its proper place in the hierarchy, not when it ranks low. What gives? Any thoughts?

Anyhow, the stress vaccine sounds fascinating especially as a nootropic drug. But it certainly doesn't address the actual societal poison: that as our society currently functions, people are going to be low on the totem pole. And those people are gonna be stressed out because they have so little control in their lives.

The Japanese aim to deal with this problem by making robots that can carry out all the grunt work of their society. The best we can do is make a stress vaccine? Second best might be some sort of Brave New World brain engineering. We could make sub-par classes of people who'd be content as janitors. But I'm pretty sure we're not cool with that idea. Then there's the super funny idea that we could clone Neanderthals and make them do all the dirty jobs; hey--they gotta be grateful! We brought you in to this world we could take you out again!

Summary: What would have to change in our society for hierarchy to be a source of comfort rather than stress?
posted by sunnichka at 5:45 PM on July 31, 2010

Gene therapy is the insertion of genes into an individual's cell and biological tissues to treat disease...

The motivation, of course, is to avoid the bad reputation of gene therapy, and take advantage of people's favorable view of vaccination.
Exactly. And btw, the idea of permanently modifying your own brain to avoid certain emotions is pretty freaky. I'd much rather take pills.

Actually I bet whats happening with stress and the immune system is similar to AIDS. HIV doesn't actually disable your immune system directly, it sends it into overdrive, which then causes the cells to burn out. Stress actually boosts immune response, but if you have a chronic condition, it probably tries to send your immune system into overdrive all the time, which results in a lowered immune response and all these problems.

A better solution, would be to try tackling the health problems caused by stress, rather then going into people's brains and trying to "turn down" the amygdala (which is what I assume they mean by 'an almond-shaped nub') or whatever. It's not just a knob you can adjust (I don't think). And while it might reduce stress levels in animals, who knows what kind of effect it might have on people's ability to form memories or who knows what.
posted by delmoi at 7:28 PM on July 31, 2010

This is a vaccine in the same sense that Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Makes me want to puke.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:20 PM on July 31, 2010

metafilter: "You never know when you’re going to get beat up. You never get laid. You have to work a lot harder for food.”
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:51 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a vaccine in the same sense that Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Makes me want to puke.

The thing is, making an actual vaccine against things your body produces natural is extremely dangerous. There was an incident a few years ago where a company had produced a kind of vaccine that would (in theory) make your own bodies immune system reduce the effect of "Substance P", an enigmatically named neurotransmitter used to transmit pain signals in the body. It worked in Chimps.

Then they tried giving a tiny amount to humans, an amount so small it was expected to have no effect at all. And the people swelled up huge and nearly died, as if their entire body was swelling. Probably caused by a runaway immune system attacking the body itself.

So trying to create a "real" vaccine against "Stress" would be very, very dangerous.
posted by delmoi at 12:15 AM on August 1, 2010

I agree, Delmoi. And that's a disturbing incident. Just to clarify, I wasn't complaining that they're not making a real vaccine. I was complaining that they're calling gene therapy a vaccine as a euphemism, as jamjam pointed out. Just as MRI is a euphemism for NMR (because "nuclear" is baaaaaad). Not everything that's injected is a vaccine.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:23 AM on August 1, 2010

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