‘Bad Blood’ (mala sangre)

In a very traditional local way, my grandma would say: <<Don’t get your blood bad!>>. Well, I bet my grandma was not the only one; many other grandmas have said it… In fact, they keep doing it. Sometimes I wonder which intuition lies behind such popular sayings. Because there are some that get it pretty right, as science demonstrates.

Yes, indeed, when we get mad or stressed, a very particular emotional alchemy flows in our veins. I am talking about hormones. The <<stress hormones>>, as specialists call them. There are basically three of them: Firstly, the famous epinephrine, all the rage for extreme sports people. Then, one that holds a similar name, norepinephrine, is in charge of increasing the level of mental and bodily activity (arousal). It speeds up all muscle responses in arms and legs. Finally, glucocorticoids. As you can tell by their name, they have something to do with glucose and corticoids.

These three hormones gallop frantically in our bloodstream in order to distribute energy throughout our body and to put glucose in motion (which is, precisely, muscle fuel). The reason why this happens can be traced back to ancient ages. Our evolutionary ancestors –I am talking about hundreds of thousands of years back, mind you- were always at risk. They could be lions’ meal anytime, or breakfast for any other predator of that age (great-great-grandpas of current lions), so every attack should be faced… either fighting or else fleeing as fast as possible. Nature is wise; we have a very well prepared body.

The problem is that, in the current scenario we live, stressing factors are not usually sudden, such as a saber-toothed tiger around the corner. Instead, stressors are daily and persistent. Traffic, which drives us nuts, inflation, trouble in the office, bills to pay… Still, our body reacts the same way as our ancestors’. Waves of epinephrine, norepinephrine and glucocorticoids. Moreover, we do not give our body enough time to recover between a stressor and the next one. Each wave flows over the previous one, over and over again.

When the hormone concentration in blood takes longer than necessary, we live every single day as if it was an emergency, permanently stressed and ready to fight or fly (but still remaining quiet!). Thus, we pay the price. We feel the effects of stress in the long run: defense mechanisms fall down, blood pressure goes up, and we can even develop ulcers.

My grandma was so right! Don´t get your blood bad…




•          Sapolsky, Robert M. (2004), Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress Related Diseases, and Coping.

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