Stress, Adaptation, and Disease: Allostasis and Allostatic Load



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    1. Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, New York 10021 USA
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Abstract: Adaptation in the face of potentially stressful challenges involves activation of neural, neuroendocrine and neuroendocrine-immune mechanisms. This has been called “allostasis” or “stability through change” by Sterling and Eyer (Fisher S., Reason J. (eds): Handbook of Life Stress, Cognition and Health. J. Wiley Ltd. 1988, p. 631), and allostasis is an essential component of maintaining homeostasis. When these adaptive systems are turned on and turned off again efficiently and not too frequently, the body is able to cope effectively with challenges that it might not otherwise survive. However, there are a number of circumstances in which allostatic systems may either be overstimulated or not perform normally, and this condition has been termed “allostatic load” or the price of adaptation (McEwen and Stellar, Arch. Int. Med. 1993; 153:2093.). Allostatic load can lead to disease over long periods. Types of allostatic load include (1) frequent activation of allostatic systems; (2) failure to shut off allostatic activity after stress; (3) inadequate response of allostatic systems leading to elevated activity of other, normally counter-regulated allostatic systems after stress. Examples will be given for each type of allostatic load from research pertaining to autonomic, CNS, neuroendocrine, and immune system activity. The relationship of allostatic load to genetic and developmental predispositions to disease is also considered.