The Effects of Stress on Our Bodies: Nikita’s Lesson
From Anteneh Roba, MD,
International Fund for Africa
Rushing to take medications not only results in often-unnecessary drug use, but also fails to address the root problem causing stress-induced symptoms...Secondly, Nikita teaches us that all animals, whether dogs, pigs, horses, or humans, have emotions and feelings that impact the body.
At the end of 2011 my beloved dog Lucky died.
A week before he passed away, my other dog Nikita started drinking a lot of water and excessively urinating. After two weeks of observing him I decided to take him to the vet, thinking he had developed diabetes. To my surprise, his test results revealed that Nikita had developed Cushing's disease, a condition caused by the overproduction of stress hormones in the body.
As a physician familiar with the symptoms of Cushing's disease, I told the veterinarian that I just did not believe he had developed Cushing's disease. Instead, I believed the stress related to Lucky's illness and eventual death, in addition to our reaction to this event, had caused Nikita to release excessive stress hormones that mimicked, but did not actually develop, Cushing's disease. Of course, attributing anthropocentric traits to an animal was viewed as absurd, and the vet taking care of him immediately dismissed my hypothesis.
Nevertheless, I proceeded to test my theory. When it came time to decide whether or not to treat Nikita for Cushing's disease, I decided to watch him closely, and repeat the lab test in six months. When the second round of results came in, we found they still suggested Cushings' disease as the culprit for his changed behavior. However, I had noticed his symptoms subsiding in the 6-month interim, without any medication, which further convinced me he was physiologically reacting to the intense pressure of watching his child hood buddy suffer and eventually die. This time, I chose to seek the help of a specialist at another hospital who examined Nikita, reviewed his lab work and agreed to retest him in another six months.
Just a few weeks ago, the third and final test results arrived. Amazingly, they showed that Nikita's stress hormone levels were back to normal. Meanwhile, as I had continued to watch him closely, I had noticed his symptoms fade away, and then completely disappear. By making the decision not to treat Nikita, I had saved him the agony of taking medications that would basically destroy his adrenal glands, the glands that produce the very important stress hormones.
Why is Nikita's story so important?
For us humans, Nikita's story shows us how deeply stress can affect not just our minds, but our bodies as well. It teaches us to live a holistic life that emphasizes prevention, eating healthy, exercising regularly, and decreasing our stress levels naturally through meditation, yoga, or other spiritual methods. Rushing to take medications not only results in often-unnecessary drug use, but also fails to address the root problem causing stress-induced symptoms.
Secondly, Nikita teaches us that all animals, whether dogs, pigs, horses, or humans, have emotions and feelings that impact the body. Although our non-human friends may not be able to verbalize their feelings, they nevertheless suffer from both physiological and mental conditions, in most cases, similar to ours. Anxiety, depression, and other aspects of mental anguish can affect these creatures just as much as it affects us. To dismiss this reality is to impose an artificial separation between humans and non-human animals that share more in common than we are often willing to recognize.