Presentations and speakers at the First International Congress on Stress included:
•Contrasting Relationships of Anxiety and Type A Behaviors to Different Cardiovascular Disorders – Ray Rosenman
•Stress, Catecholamines and Cardiovascular Diseases – Paul Hjemdahl
•Occupation and Changes in Job Strain in Relation to Physiologic Parameters -Töres Theorell
•The Effect of Stress and Emotions on Health – Charles Spielberger
•The Impact of Depression on Immune System Parameters and Survival in Bereaved Cancer Patients – Kurt Zänker
•The Prediction of Cancer in Coronary Heart Disease on the Basis of Personality and Stress – Hans J Eysenck
•Stress Research in a Third World Context – Nicola Malan
•Disorders of Arousal and the Relaxation Response Part I – Herbert Benson
•Disorders of Arousal and the Relaxation Response Part II – George Everly
•Utilizing The Relaxation Response in the Treatment of Hypertension – Eileen Stuart
•Psychosocial Stress and Executive Health – Paul J. Rosch
•Bottom Line Results with a Cognitive Restructuring Program – Clay Lafferty and Lorraine Colletti
•Self-Awareness and Health: The Importance of Attitude in Health and Disease – Daniel Goleman
•The Use of Electrical Energies in the Promotion of Healing and Treatment of Cancer – Björn Nordenström
•The Physiologic Effects of Low Energy Emission Therapy (LEET) – Boris Pasche
•The Effect of Electromagnetic Energy on Brain Neurotransmitters – Norman Shealy and Saul Liss
The highlight of the Congress was the presentation of The Hans Selye Award to Stewart Wolf and his Hans Selye Award Lecture “The Scales of Libra, Social Factors That Influence Stress”. This was a 25-year follow-up of his Roseto studies demonstrating the powerful cardioprotective benefits of close social support and his prediction that this would erode as the inhabitants gave up their age old traditions. As noted in one of the early AIS Newsletters, when he began his investigations, this small Pennsylvania town had possibly the lowest cardiovascular death rate in the U.S. despite evidence of any decreased risk based on cholesterol and blood pressure levels or smoking, dietary and exercise habits. What was unique in Wolf’s opinion was that the community was almost entirely inhabited by descendants of Italians who had immigrated there 100 years previously from a small village in Italy. The site had been carefully selected because of its similarity to their birthplace, and not only was its name, Roseto, retained, but also the ingrained values, customs and traditions of their forbears. The elderly were respected and cherished and felt needed — because they were. Most families had three or more generations living under the same roof. Although the oldest nursing home in the U.S. was nearby, it rarely housed anyone from Roseto. There was a strict taboo against ostentation and pomposity so that there were no external trappings such as fancier homes, cars, clothing, etc. that would signal or reflect greater wealth, power or higher social status. Any display of superiority was avoided since this would invoke the curse of the mal occhio (evil eye). There were few marriages outside the faith and the first-born child was routinely named after a grandparent. Rosetans were warm, generous and friendly, eager to celebrate a first communion, birthday, anniversary or any other excuse for family and friends to get together in an event that would actively involve those of all ages.
In 1963, Wolf made the rather bold prediction that should the Rosetans abandon their ancestral values and customs they would also lose their protection from cardiovascular disease. By 1970, it was clear that many of these century-old taboos and traditions had indeed begun to crumble. Cadillacs and expensive foreign luxury cars became increasingly common as did lavish ranch type suburban homes with swimming pools, three car garages and other enhancements. Mixed marriages soared from 18 to 79 per cent. The first two baby boys were no longer uniformly named after their grandfathers but rather for the father, godfather or nobody in particular. New names like Kelly, Allison, Bruce and Lance started to surface. Local shops and eating places disappeared as Rosetans joined country clubs and drove to supermarkets
and deluxe restaurants and bistros. Attendance at Men’s Clubs functions and the local church steadily declined. It had also become increasingly apparent that aging parents had lost their prime position as elder statesmen whose advice was sought and respected.
Wolf’s prophecy proved amazingly accurate. Deaths from heart attacks increased while at the same time they were declining throughout the rest of the nation. Coronary heart disease more than doubled, hypertension tripled and there was a substantial increase in strokes despite a local decrease in smoking and fat consumption. As Wolf explained, this should not be surprising. Fifty years previously, C.P. Donosson, a physician with extensive experience in black Africa, had noted in his book Civilization and Disease, a complete absence of hypertension, diabetes and peptic ulcer in remote areas of the continent where the social structure remained fairly stable. However, these and other of Selye’s stress-related “Diseases of Adaptation” rapidly emerged when the intrusion of Western ways and life styles caused a severe perturbation of traditional social order and balance.
Stewart’s Hans Selye Lecture was followed by a lively discussion period with numerous pertinent questions and comments that included Dr. Paul Rosch’s research into the role of stress in cancer. As Dr. Rosch had noted a decade earlier in Cancer Stress and Death, Albert Schweitzer, the renowned medical missionary and Nobel Prize recipient wrote “on my arrival in Gabon in 1913, I was astonished to find no cases of cancer”. Over the years, cases began to appear in growing numbers, and he concluded “my observations incline me to attribute this to the fact that the natives are living more and more after the manner of the whites”. The celebrated anthropologist and Arctic explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, in his book, which was actually entitled, Cancer: Disease of Civilization noted the absence of cancer in the Eskimos upon his arrival in the Arctic, but a subsequent increase in the incidence of the disease as closer contact with white civilization was established. He quoted Sir Robert McCarrison, a physician who had studied 11,000 Hunza natives in Kashmir from 1904-1911. Cancer was unknown and McCarrison attributed this and their unusual longevity to the fact that they were “far removed from the refinement of civilization and endowed with a nervous system of notable stability”. As Alvin Toffler had also emphasized in Future Shock, “By subjecting individuals to too much change in too short a time, we induce disorientation and shattering stress.”
This presentation provided the springboard for themes that would be expanded on at subsequent Congresses, including the powerful stress buffering effect of a sense of belonging that comes from strong social support and the non role of cholesterol and dietary fat intake in coronary heart disease.