Episode #23: This is Your Brain on Stress…Genomics, Stress, Resilience and the Immune System

Mar 5, 2018

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Dr George Slavich’s, research integrates tools and methods from psychology, neuroscience, immunology, genetics, and genomics to explain the effects of stress on aging, mood, and the brain. He is currently investigating how experiences of social stress and adversity reach deep inside the body to influence the activity of the human genome.

Dr. George Slavich holds several titles including a Professorship in Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. He is the Associate Director of the Stress Measurement Network, and Director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research (http://www.uclastresslab.org).

In this Episode You Will Learn:

Accumulation of stress over a lifetime is linked to cognitive impairment in general and Alzheimer’s disease in specific.

To let the cat out of the bag, the practical piece here is to get your “life stressors test” in the form of a lifetime inventory of stress and adversity here (STRAIN score):

Read the shownotes below and listen to the second half of the show to get the explanation on this tool.

Dr Slavich introduces the field of “Psychoneuroimmunology” Psychoneuroimmunology involves how psychological and cognitive processes influences the brain, body, and immune system. He explains what happens to the brain and nervous system over a lifetime of acute and chronic stressors.

“Stress” or a “stressor” may be defined has been defined as any situation, or set of external demands, that requires an organism to expend resources to adapt or cope with its circumstances (Monroe, 2008).

Human Social Genomics, a field pioneered in part by Dr. Slavich and his collaborator Dr Steve Cole at UCLA, demonstrates how basic human experiences – including both minor and major life stressors – influence the activity of the human genome. Using microarray-based genome-wide transcriptional profiles – which he explains is like a panoramic photograph of gene activity across all 25,000 human genes – Dr Slavich’s team has observed patterns of negative changes in inflammation and virus susceptibility gene expression as a result of exposure to “stressors.”

Dr. Slavich hypothesizes that these negative genetic inflammatory patterns may an innate human ability to preemptively read ques in his/her social environment that gives rise to mobilization of immune/gene products (from bone marrow and fat cells for example) into the blood. This may be why these inflammatory and immune patterns are detectable in his medical experiments. This may also be why even what a human thinks about can trigger these type of immune system abnormalities.

Regarding resilience, Dr Slavich cites some early data that indicate: yoga, meditation, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) practices likely have positive impacts on the immune systems and so-called resilience genes in the body.

Dr Slavich and his team have developed STRAIN tool – Stress and Adversity Inventory. This online tool allows you to take inventory of all the various types of stressors in your life and target a therapeutic strategy around this.

The STRAIN tool has allowed his team to predict elements around cognitive aging, memory impairment, and challenges in executive function. Notably, there is considerable peak risk-susceptibility in humans around age 55-70 where stress becomes another critical risk factor for cognitive function and overall degradation of health.

Resources Mentioned:

To perform the STRAIN test on yourself go here:

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