Quick post – the kids are napping and I am getting into reading some Hans Selye. Fascinating stuff.
Here’s a bit that has made me look at health in a new way:
Many maladies are due not so much to what happens to us as to our inability to adapt, and they have therefore been called “diseases of adaptation.” The most common of such diseases are peptic ulcers in the stomach and upper intestine, high blood pressure, heart accidents, and nervous disturbances.
This is a perspective for me to explore ailments. Taking a step back to ask myself “What am I doing that I am not adapting to?” may seem simple. But, I, like many other people, tend to whip myself harder when I seem to be weakening.
Now there can be a hormetic response to short, punctuated stresses. These would be short intense workouts, intermittent fasting, periodic low protein intake, reading complex material, learning a new language, etc. That’s called adaptation. You get stronger from the stress because eventually you STOP and recover.
When you fail to recover (adapt) illness results. And, according to Selye’s work, the illness is typically nonspecific and systemic. For example, it is accepted that heart disease can be a down stream result of unrelenting stress. But, people don’t simply develop only heart disease – they also get diabetes, cancers, inflammation, etc. Selye says it better:
No malady is just a disease of adaptation. Nor are there any disease producers which can be so perfectly handled by the organism that maladaptation plays no part in their effects upon the body. Such agents would not produce disease. This haziness in its delimitation does not interfere with the practical utility of our concept. We must put up with the same lack of precision whenever we have to classify any other kind of disease. There is no pure heart disease, in which all other organs remain perfectly undisturbed, nor can we ever speak of a pure kidney disease or a pure nervous disease in this sense.
So, as long as we rest and recover we can keep stressing our selves endlessly right? We’ll just keep getting stronger and stronger right? Well, Selye says “no”.
Apparently, we have hidden reserves of adaptability, or adaptation energy, in ourselves throughout the body. As soon as local stress consumes the most readily accessible local reserves, local exhaustion sets in and activity in the strained part must stop. This is an important protective mechanism because, during the period of rest thus enforced, more adaptation energy can be made available, either from less readily accessible local stores or from reserves in other parts of the body. Only when all of our adaptability is used up will irreversible, general exhaustion and death follow.
Interesting. So, we are able to adapt and get stronger, but it may be at the expense of other energy stores. This makes me wonder if we are really getting stronger?
We should be very selective about the kinds and frequency of the stresses we introduce. Before forcing your exhausted body to workout, before denying your starving body food because you are on a diet, before skimping on sleep to watch late night TV, ask yourself whether this stress will make you stronger and at what expense to the rest of your body?
(Quotes taken from “The Nature of Stress, http://www.icnr.com/articles/the-nature-of-stress.html).