Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

ISBN: 0805073698
ISBN 13: 9780805073690
By: Robert M. Sapolsky

Check Price Now


Biology Currently Reading Medicine Neuroscience Non Fiction Nonfiction Psychology Science Self Help To Read

About this book

Renowned primatologist Robert Sapolsky offers a completely revised and updated edition of his most popular work, with nearly 90,000 copies in print Now in a third edition, Robert M. Sapolsky's acclaimed and successful Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers features new chapters on how stress affects sleep and addiction, as well as new insights into anxiety and personality disorder and the impact of spirituality on managing stress. As Sapolsky explains, most of us do not lie awake at night worrying about whether we have leprosy or malaria. Instead, the diseases we fear-and the ones that plague us now-are illnesses brought on by the slow accumulation of damage, such as heart disease and cancer. When we worry or experience stress, our body turns on the same physiological responses that an animal's does, but we do not resolve conflict in the same way-through fighting or fleeing. Over time, this activation of a stress response makes us literally sick. Combining cutting-edge research with a healthy dose of good humor and practical advice, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers explains how prolonged stress causes or intensifies a range of physical and mental afflictions, including depression, ulcers, colitis, heart disease, and more. It also provides essential guidance to controlling our stress responses. This new edition promises to be the most comprehensive and engaging one yet. Renowned primatologist Robert Sapolsky offers a completely revised and updated edition of his most popular work, with nearly 90,000 copies in print Now in a third edition, Robert M. Sapolsky's acclaimed and successful Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers features new chapters on how stress affects sleep and addiction, as well as new insights into anxiety and personality disorder and the impact of spirituality on managing stress.

Reader's Thoughts


This was my text for my Health Psychology class. The only complaint I have about this book is that sometimes it is hard to follow because there are no bolded words or explanations on the side, like ANY other book relating to science would have.But it is very funny, very interesting, very well-researched, and very thought-provoking. Sapolsky has a way of explaining complicated concepts in an approachable way. You will learn how to be aware of, be knowledgable about, and better attack the stress in your life!

Chung Chin

This is a book packed full of information on how stress can cause our body to go haywire. You will find explanation for how stress affects your weight, sleep, and health in general.Although there are still lots of jargon and terms in the book that you will find alien, the explanation is given in the most simple way possible, making it an accessible material in general.However, after reading through all the chapters on how stress can wreak havoc to our body, you don't actually get a lot of materials on how you can counter them.So, this is a book on how stress can cause damage to your body. If you're looking for a solid book on recommendations to deal with stress, this might not be it.To the author's credit, he is trying to be as accurate as possible, and therefore I believe he is trying his best to recommend the most scientifically accurate practice to deal with stress; and sadly, there may not be many, although there is a few practical one such as exercise and meditation.

Theresa Truax-Gischler

I read this book several years ago, and still go back to it periodically. If you ever thought that stress was not a killer, that we are not heavily influenced by our environment and by our responses to it, think again and read this book. Sapolsky’s meticulously detailed research and literature survey on stress is a lovely biology science background to implementing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy approaches to your own life. The structure of our brain, our metabolism, our hormones, our immune system are all incredibly influenced by our surroundings. Put a primate under stressful conditions, and its brain begins to starve. It stops creating new cells. The cells it already has retreat inwards. The mind and body are disfigured.With all the research coming out about the high stress levels of parent caregivers of children and adults with developmental disabilties, autism and behavior problems, this book is a great read. Lots of biological science, but written in an accessible manner. Sapolsky’s sense of humor is a great antidote to his subject.The last chapter on "Managing Stress" is highly useful for parents and caregivers:Tales from the Trenches: Some Folks Who Are Amazing at Dealing with Stress - Successful Aging - Coping with Catastrophic Illness - Difference in Vulnerability to Learned Helplessness - More Stress Management Lessons from the BaboonsApplying Principles of Dealing with Psychological Stress: Some Success StoriesSelf-Medication and Chronic Pain SyndromesIncreasing Control in Nursing HomesStress Management: Reading the Label CarefullyExerciseMeditationGet More Control, More Predictability in Your Life... MaybeSocial SupportReligion and SpiritualityPicking the Right Strategy at the Right Time: Cognitive FlexibilityWhat Was He Going on About with THAT?Just Do It: The 80/20 Quality of Stress ManagementA Summing UpHighly recommended!


I encountered a link to a speech by Sapolsky on Pharyngula, I think, and was immediately engaged by his speaking style. His books, or this one at least, is similarly easy to get into, and manages to discuss topics of fair complexity in an incredibly approachable way. He's clearly aware that his book might be read by a wide range of audiences, and strives to provide something for everyone. I'll definitely be working my way through the rest of his catalog.The book is fascinating, too, although as he notes many times, thinking about and addressing stress is difficult, because trying to act to reduce stress can itself be stressful. As he elucidates what's currently known about the links between stress and disease, a lot of interesting things emerge, some of which are essentially throwaway trivia, like the idea that anti-depressant medication takes a while to work on people that are clinically depressed because of the physiological nature of depression; he doesn't really spell it out, but the obvious corollary is that is someone takes AD medication and instantly feels better, they're probably not actually depressed. This insight was immensely powerful to me in this over-prescribed age of ours.


** spoiler alert ** Jen told me I should check out this book because it was part of her reading for her Masters of Social Work program. Sapolsky is an entertaining and fun author and the book breaks down the scientific and physiological aspects of stress response in a way that is easily understood for people like me who don't know much about the subject. I actually kind of understand neurotransmitters now - I'm dangerous.Something you should know before embarking on this book, though, is that it's mostly 300+ pages of why stress is bad for you, in a lot of detail. During the book Sapolsky often refers to the final chapter in which he will give some tips on what can be done to cope effectively with stress. When you get there, though, it really isn't very empowering. Most of the tips come with caveats and qualifications and frankly the chapter is a drop in the bucket of bad news you've been reading up to that point. So you should just know that going in.


Most of the book describes the physiology of what happens in your body, under stress, and explanations as to why it happens. It is a whole catalog of all the different kinds of stressors and how it can be downward spiral, if not kept in check. Suggestions as to what to do to keep stress in check come near the end, and aren't really that new. Exercise, meditate, use healthy outlets for frustration and find social support. His examples of what stress does to a person come from scientific research and the information is so comprehensive that the author tries to keep things light with a sense of humor, which was appreciated, but didn't fully outweigh the deluge of stress information.An interesting stop along the way was when the author indicated that research showed that access to health insurance didn't matter much as to people availing themselves of the services. What actually did matter was affluence. He humorously suggested that to provide the best healthcare for yourself, you needed to choose rich parents.About Exercise, he said that its effects help your body for some hours, up to 24 hours after ending exercise. And that exercise you hate does the opposite -- it increases your stress. So, find something you like to do, to exercise. He said that meditation only helps during the time you are meditating. Finding healthy outlets for frustration which can give the perception of control. As with a lot of what he says, there are two sides. With the perception of control, you can feel that having it was good, or the situation would have been worse, or if the situation is sufficiently bad, you may feel that your control made the situation worse. Social Support he says is more than just socializing. Finding people who share your flavor of stress and can show that there is hope to survive and thrive, is a great benefit. In the end, he was saying that, aside from actually being struck down with heart disease, stroke or cancer, you can have an effect on if you contract stress related diseases with your mind and the attitude. Paraphrasing, As a physiologist who has studied stress for many years, I clearly see that the physiology of the system is often no more decisive than the psychology. Looking at our everyday stresses, traffic jams, anxieties of relationships, money worries, overwork. Few of them are real physical threats, warranting the stress response our bodies provide. This quote was pretty pithy, "In our privileged lives, we are uniquely smart enough to have invented these stressors and uniquely foolish enough to let them too often dominate our lives, surely we have the potential to be uniquely wise enough to banish their stressful hold."


To summarize: Adrenaline is a DEATH drug. It's designed to keep you alive for the next 15 seconds, or to ease your death. As such, it's necessarily thriftless. If you can survive to the 16th second only by losing a limb, it's worthwhile to sacrifice the limb. Otherwise, it's wasteful and disabling.Zebras don't get ulcers because they (mostly) only release stress hormones 'in the event of an actual emergency'. Humans deliberately evoke stress on an everyday basis, and the reckless decisions the body makes under the influence of stress hormones, too often, results in the loss of limbs, supression of the immune system, etc.Recommendation: don't pull the fire alarm unless there's a real fire.

Chris Herdt

This book is a good introduction to stress and its effects on physiology and psychology (Nicola's area of expertise). Although it is written for a lay audience, I often got the feeling it was written for a lay audience of primarily MDs.By the end of the book, you will feel like you and epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids are all old friends--but in spite of the terminology, it is really an easy read and full of good humor and interesting anecdotes (e.g. hyenas are very peculiar).Here is a quote, taken out of context, that I enjoyed:"Every child cannot grow up to be president; it turned out that merely by holding hands and singing folk songs we couldn't end all war, and hunger does not disappear just by visualizing a world without it....Would that it were so. And shame on those who would sell this view."You may not like all of his opinions. Sapolsky is an unapologetic atheist, but appears to have a high opinion of many religious people. He also speaks frankly about sex. He also believes in animal testing, although he thinks that some past tests went too far.


This is hands down the best medical book I have ever read. In a series of memorable and highly amusing stories and anecdotes Sapolsky explains the complex biology behind why well known principles of psychology, religion, new age philosophy and even voodoo curses work. The central story of the book is how the fight or flight response – the most powerful force that has shaped vertebrate evolution for hundreds of millions of years - is now being turned against modern humans through chronic stress and anxiety. He outlines how modern stress triggers that have nothing to do with immediate survival - whether brought on from traffic, bad bosses, bad relationships - can be linked to exacerbating the development of almost every modern epidemic from cancer to colitis, depression to dwarfism, diabetes to diarrhea, heart disease to infertility to immune disorders. The book concludes with some stories about coping with stress, and the unique psychological profiles of the people who avoid the development of stress-related diseases and experience health improvements with aging in a process he calls “successful aging.”

J. Erickson

This is where I really get “geeky” or over the top excited! This is a classic – by that I mean this is a text book that is easy to read, filled with information regarding the brain, autonomic system, fight, flight responses, stress, and it all is easy to read, understand and fits nicely with psychopathology courses I have taught over the years to graduate students. Further, this is one of the only books I've read where the footnotes have note, and these notes are so interesting that I need to make an effort to read the book first, re-read the foot notes and notes, and then took notes to use for teaching. Clearly it's not Dr. Sapolsky's first day on the job! Further, while this is an older version, the enclosed material is still applicable today. Excellent book and highly recommended!


How much fighting-or-fleeing have you had to do lately? For most of us, probably not much. In this very readable but thoroughly researched book, Sapolsky makes the point that a) we need a stress response but b) if you repeatedly turn on your stress response or you can't turn it off when it isn't needed, your response has the potential to increase the risk of disease with measurable effects on memory, and many of our organ systems. The author is self-deprecating and at times really funny, and after the first chapter you'll barely notice the names of all the hormones. I thought there was a fair bit of animal torture going on with all the research (stressing rats and other animals to see what they do) but he is only quoting what has already been done, and he does have the grace to say at one point that he wasn't entirely happy with some of the experiments. The final part of the book is devoted to exploring why some people are good at dealing with stress, finding out what they are doing right, and making suggestions for the rest of us. And you will find out why zebras don't get ulcers, in case that was a burning question.

Bob Klein

Sapolsky is an amazing writer and Primate's Memoir ranks as one of my favorite books. That said, the title, cover, and prior experience with Primate's Memoir led me to have unrealistic expectations of this book. It is thorough and well-written, but approaches the topic of stress from a phsyiological perspective that doesn't spare any of the details. As such, it often calmed my stress by putting me to sleep. The subtitle's promise of a section on "coping" with stress didn't pan out, and amounted to a few pages of an attempt at the end of the book. If you're looking for a tutorial on the physiology of stress and its relationship to a wide variety of human ailments and conditions (sickness, age, gender, etc.) then you might like this more than I did.


Excellent book about the body's stress response written in a fun and engaging style. This book is so well written that even someone with absolutely no background in medicine or biology could understand this neat little find. I've even used quotes out of this book for my clients--it's really that bite sized and engaging. Must read. Probably the best academic book disguised as popular non-fiction I've ever read.


Sapolsky's primer on neuroendocrinology benefits greatly from a new edition in that the metaphors are more topical and a great deal of old theory has been validated by modern research, showing that psychological stress does indeed ultimately have a physiological component (organ stress due to wildly fluctuating hormone levels). The upshot is that we all need to find our own unique ways of coping with stress based on our personality types and numerous other factors in order to live long and healthy lives (the only seeming universal being that exercise not in excess seems to benefit everyone). Prior to the concluding chapters on these personal habits, Saplosky also notes the inequality in wealth as a tremendous factor in disease related to stress, asserting that humans have created their own stresses through religion and agriculture (a view I've also held all along), and ultimately advocating for social justice based on eradicating these inequalities.


Right, I finished it maybe a month and a half ago, and never got around to writing a review. I'm going to correct that since this book deserves one.The book starts out describing what stress is. In a nutshell, the body's stress-reponse is what the body does when there is a physical emergency (a lion, for the zebra). In this context the stress-response makes sense. Repairing damage, fighting diseases, digesting food, all of that can wait until the lion is no longer a threat. Then the response can stop, and all those activities put to the side can resume.Which doesn't happen when you live in an environment of chronic stressors.With this setup, the next few chapters go into the technical details of the stress-response. How it's activated, the role that important hormones play, and what changes occur in your body, and how your body goes from there back to its normal state. And when it doesn't, that's where the problems start.The book's has a peculiar style that I enjoy. It tackles a serious, unhappy subject with a light touch and fun to read prose. It's also littered with funny anecdotes that help to lighten the mood. But there are serious moments as well. The second to last chapter that examines poverty is the most powerful part of the book.If you've ever wondered about stress at all, this is an excellent place to start. It's detailed, fun to read and it makes you think.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *