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Article

Anthony C. Hackney and Eser Ağgön

Stress is encountered by every individual on a daily basis. Such encounters can be of a negative (distress) or a positive (eustress) nature. Excessive and chronic distress exposure is associated with numerous health problems affecting both physiological and psychological components of a person’s well-being. One mediating aspect of these occurrences is the responses of the neuroendocrine system with the body. Physical activity (i.e., exercise) produces large and dramatic changes in the neuroendocrine system as it serves as a “stressor” to the system. To this end, though, chronic engagement in physical activity leads to exercise training-induced adaptations within the neuroendocrine system that potentiate an individual’s ability to deal with distressful experiences and exposures. Therefore, becoming more physically fit and exercise trained is one potential adjunctive therapy available for clinicians to recommend in the treatment of health problems associated with chronic exposure to distress.

Article

Conscience P. Bwiza, Jyung Mean Son, and Changhan Lee

Aging is a progressive process with multiple biological processes collectively deteriorating with time, ultimately causing loss of physiological functions necessary for survival and reproduction. It is also thought to have a strong evolutionary basis, largely resulting from the lack of selection force. Here, we discuss the evolutionary aspects of aging and a selection of theories founded on a variety of biological functions that have been shown to be involved in aging in multiple model organisms, ranging from the simple yeast, worms, flies, killifish, and rodents, to non-human primates and humans. The conglomerate of distinct theories has together revolutionized aging research in the past several decades, far more than what humankind has known since the dawn of civilization. However, not one theory alone can independently explain aging and should not be interpreted out of context of the cell and organism in its entirety. That said, the 21st century has been and will be an exciting time in the field of aging, with scientific advances on health span and lifespan being made at multiple fronts of biology and medicine in an unprecedented scale.

Article

Vanessa L. Burrows

Stress has not always been accepted as a legitimate medical condition. The biomedical concept stress grew from tangled roots of varied psychosomatic theories of health that examined (a) the relationship between the mind and the body, (b) the relationship between an individual and his or her environment, (c) the capacity for human adaptation, and (d) biochemical mechanisms of self-preservation, and how these functions are altered during acute shock or chronic exposure to harmful agents. From disparate 19th-century origins in the fields of neurology, psychiatry, and evolutionary biology, a biological disease model of stress was originally conceived in the mid-1930s by Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye, who correlated adrenocortical functions with the regulation of chronic disease. At the same time, the mid-20th-century epidemiological transition signaled the emergence of a pluricausal perspective of degenerative, chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis that were not produced not by a specific etiological agent, but by a complex combination of multiple factors which contributed to a process of maladaptation that occurred over time due to the conditioning influence of multiple risk factors. The mass awareness of the therapeutic impact of adrenocortical hormones in the treatment of these prevalent diseases offered greater cultural currency to the biological disease model of stress. By the end of the Second World War, military neuropsychiatric research on combat fatigue promoted cultural acceptance of a dynamic and universal concept of mental illness that normalized the phenomenon of mental stress. This cultural shift encouraged the medicalization of anxiety which stimulated the emergence of a market for anxiolytic drugs in the 1950s and helped to link psychological and physiological health. By the 1960s, a growing psychosomatic paradigm of stress focused on behavioral interventions and encouraged the belief that individuals could control their own health through responsible decision-making. The implication that mental power can affect one’s physical health reinforced the psycho-socio-biological ambiguity that has been an enduring legacy of stress ever since. This article examines the medicalization of stress—that is, the historical process by which stress became medically defined. It spans from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, focusing on these nine distinct phases: 1. 19th-century psychosomatic antecedent disease concepts 2. The emergence of shell-shock as a medical diagnosis during World War I 3. Hans Selye’s theorization of the General Adapation Syndrome in the 1930s 4. neuropsychiatric research on combat stress during World War II 5. contemporaneous military research on stress hormones during World War II 6. the emergence of a risk factor model of disease in the post-World War II era 7. the development of a professional cadre of stress researchers in the 1940s and 50s 8. the medicalization of anxiety in the early post–World War II era 9. The popularization of stress in the 1950s and pharmaceutical treatments for stress, marked by the cultural assimilation of paradigmatic stress behaviors and deterrence strategies, as well pharmaceutical treatments for stress.