Many adult diseases sprout in poverty

February 27th, 2010 - 3:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 27 (IANS) The roots of many adult diseases lie in poverty and other burdens on the socially disadvantaged, says a new study.
Rockefeller University’s Bruce S. McEwen, self-styled molecular sociologist, highlighted the effects such environmental stressors have on the brain and in turn other organ systems.

McEwen, neuroendocrinologist, will show how negative daily life experiences, above and beyond dramatic stressful events, contribute to an overall wear and tear on the body.

“Improving the home environment is probably the single most important thing we can do for the health of that child,” says McEwen, professor and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Lab of Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller.

He calls this wear and tear allostatic load, from the term allostasis, a physiological adaptation that attempts to maintain a dynamic balance in a system under pressure from a variety of sources.

In the case of stress, allostatic load reflects the sum of pressures that strain the brain and body, not only the impact of environmental stressors but also genes, lifestyle habits such as sleep, diet, and exercise, and bad early life experiences.

The concept captures the systematic effects of stress on the brain, which in the short-run can be protective — i.e., the fight or flight response — but if endured over extended periods of time can lead to lifelong behaviour and health problems, says a Rockefeller release.

The effects are especially profound in early childhood development, he argues, drawing on more than a decade of his work with an interdisciplinary group of scientists researching the long-term health effects of social inequality.

These findings were presented at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California.

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