Guest Blog: How Punishment Can Affect Health

How punishment can affect health
By Jordan Riak, June 2009

“The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the healthy development of the next generation. Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body (especially the brain), with damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan.”

When the mammalian brain anticipates danger, it triggers a cascade of responses. First, the hypothalamus secretes the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), stimulating the pituitary to produce corticotropin (ACTH). The ACTH causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol and epinephrine. The cortisol helps maintain energy-producing blood sugar, while the epinephrine increases heart and breathing rates, sending extra blood to the limbs. These changes give the body a rapid energy boost to help protect itself against imminent danger. As the threat subsides, the organism tends to return to its normal state.

Exposure to long-term stress can have a very different effect. It can produce chronic and debilitating symptoms such as: memory loss, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, skin problems, weight gain, and digestive disorders. The process is essentially the same whether it involves a laboratory rat being subjected to an ongoing regimen of electric shocks or a child living in fear of punishment.

* Toxic Stress: The Facts
Center on the Developing Child, Harvard U.
Click here: Academy of Pediatrics Calls for Action to Address Toxic Stress:
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Prolonged exposure to stress hormones in a child’s developing brain can permanently compromise the brain’s ability to regulate emotion, aggression, attention, and cognition.