Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Saturday Review: Why Zebra Don't Get Ulcers

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky
Published in 2004 (3rd edition)

 If ever there was a time to not to judge a book by its cover, this would be it.  Despite its whimsical depiction of zebras dancing in a circle, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers is not a self-help book.  Written by renown biologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, it is a science text that explains the phisology of stress and the toll chronic stress takes on the human body.

He begins by explaining how stress in humans has evolved over time.  Stressors in early humans resembled those in animals and directly related to survival.  The two main causes of stress were finding food and trying to keep from being eaten.  As science, medicine, and technology advanced, psychological causes began to take over.  Sapolsky theorizes that the anticipation of an event or consequence causes just as much stress as the actual event.

Studies on stress and their findings are discussed, but the majority of the book deals with the physical ramifications of chronic stress.  They include weight gain, depression, depleted immunity, and accelerated aging, among others.  I found the chapter on stress-related sleep issues particularly interesting, as I have dealt with on and off bouts of insomnia for most of my adult life. 

Sapolsky intentionally writes the book with nonscientific readers in mind, but never talks down to them.  He explains his reason for doing this: "I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means that you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature.  Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it."  The book is relatable, interesting, and at times, very funny.  I would highly reccomend this book for those interested in psychology and health, in addition to those suffering from chronic stress and/or anxiety.

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