Employing Allostasis to Further Transdisciplinary Research
Walker, Lorelei E.
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The intersection of biological and social science research is illuminating the causal relationships between societal stressors and chronic disease. The intersection of external pressures and internal responses provides a research opportunity for transdisciplinary investigation into complex research questions aimed at employing the allostatic model of stress exposure and risk for chronic disease. To build the intellectual foundation required for transdisciplinary investigation, one that requires interdisciplinary investigators to ask collective questions) I examined selected articles from the biological sciences that explain the detailed stages of allostasis (load, high load, overload, and dysregulation) and then analyzed how those stages were measured in a selection of social science research articles that use biomarkers as measure of allostatic states. Though the social science literature employed measurement of population allostatic load in a comprehensive manner, there is evidence of misapplications of concepts of the allostatic model as proposed by the biological literature, particularly with respect to the role of the brain in the allostatic system and the distinction between high load and overload. Conversely, the social science literature contributes to a better understanding of the relationship between socio-economic forces and chronic stress by identifying concepts such as double jeopardy (e.g. being a female minority) and riskscapes (e.g. living in poverty and near a pollution source). Both bodies of literature identified characteristics of individuals in a population that may change resilience to psychosocial stress that, taken together, provide a more comprehensive approach to understanding allostasis as a mechanism for embodied stress responses and how these contribute to chronic disease. Future research investigating population-specific stress pathways in the pursuit of decreasing chronic health conditions will require interdisciplinary researchers from both the social science and biological sciences with clear research aims and a common language.