Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

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

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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


some people might not be a fan of all the science of hormones and neurotransmitters, etc. etc.. so if you don't like having to check out the whys and whats of what the body does, this might be a bit irritating to read since there's a lot to slog through in that sense. having said that, i definitely found it to be quite interesting and a fun read. there's a good mix of humor through out the book. overall, i enjoyed it and i feel like i learned a fair bit. it didn't go into as much detail about some things (like depression and dealing with it, how stress reactions predict personalities, etc.) as i would have liked or even as much as i expected. granted, he could probably go on forever about the details of those subjects, so i digress. a fair amount of it could be seen as 'common sense', and i kinda feel like his coping methods are pretty logical and nothing that's revelatory or impressive in the sense of "hey, i should totally try that", but nonetheless, i enjoyed reading it and i do feel more knowledgeable for having done so.

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.


Enlightening and full of humor. Complex pathways of stress mechanisms are untangled and presented in a simple yet captivating way.


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.

Steven Vandenburg

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers explores stress and the physiological, psychological, and societal causes and implications of stress. Sapolsky paints a bleak picture of the impact of stress on the unborn and the young. Sapolsky suggests several methods for minimizing stress including such as: having outlets for frustration, a strong social support system, some degree of predictability, a flexible locus of control, and your perception of your place in your perceived hierarchy. Other factors Sapolsky discusses include sleep and socioeconomic status.One major takeaway I had from this book is the benefit of varied experiences and meeting various types of people to improve tolerance/understanding/empathy. Humans are hard wired (amygdala reacts to the flash of different persons face) to get aggressive/defensive with people whom are different. These reactions are a relic of the past when different looking people were likely to be part of a different group/tribe and thus a higher likelihood of violence or death during your interaction. We need to work to accelerate the reduction of this reaction by promoting travel, education, and experiences with a wide set of people.

Melissa Hefferlin

I discovered this scientist on a National Geographic film about stress, Silent Killer or something like that. The film I highly recommend. So I sought out the books on the topic. For me, the material is a few clicks higher on the scientifically-detailed chart that I enjoy for recreational reading, but it is an excellent book. I enjoyed it in small chunks. It is highly informative, and displays the author's passion for the research. The effects of stress are truly fascinating, and current knowledge on the subject is presented here with passion and detail.


Robert Sapolsky is one of my favorite science writers. I generally find his work engaging, informative, and conversational, and “Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers” is no exception. This book is dense! It is jam packed with information on how your body reacts to and copes with stress. By the end of it, I found my self wondering if there was anything that glucocorticoids couldn't screw up. Though parts of it did drag a bit (for me), on the whole I found the chapters in this book to be interesting and full of useful information. I was a bit disappointed with the last chapter, however. I was hoping for more concrete suggestions on how to deal with and lessen stress. But perhaps that was an impractical expectation on my part. I would recommend this book to anyone who worries about what effect their stressful life might be having on their mind and body. This book will clearly lay out those effects in detail, and knowing what's going on (why you aren't sleeping, why you are gaining weight, for example) is the first step to stopping it.


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!


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.


Robert Sapolsky does a fantastic job of detailing every nuance of stress in relation to physiology. I will never look at a glucocorticoid the same way again. Although the text did get fairly complex at times, Sapolsky used real-life studies, examples, and metaphors to explain the more technical content. He also did a great job integrating the psychology of stress. In fact, the book was very balanced in regard to physiological and psychological interactions with the stress response and various "stress diseases." Finally, Sapolsky was able to wrap everything up with sound, realistic advice on stress management. Honestly, his summary provided all anyone really needs to know about stress reduction and prevention of diseases related to stress. Overall, the text was slow in some spots but the book was very enjoyable and educational.

William Mooney

On the cover, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers has a blurb from Kirkus Reviews saying "First-rate science for nonscientist" and I completely agree. I most enjoyed the variety of ways Sapolsky looked at stress and stress-response. He not only described how stress response affects some of our most important organs and functions, but looks at the science behind stress itself and why it can vary so much among people and animals. Furthermore, he goes beyond describing the biological processes by citing a variety of studies and throwing in some memorable anecdotes. Most importantly, he does all of this in a way that is approachable for people who don't have much previous knowledge on some of the inner-workings of our bodies. However this inevitably means it is a long book, and at times it can seem repetitive, Nevertheless, if anyone is interested in (mental) health, but might not specialize in it, I think this would be a great read.


Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Mr. Sapolsky attacks a very scientific subject with wit and charm. If you're a biologist or anthropologist or like me, just a reader who's interested in finding out more about our bodies and about my disease, multiple sclerosis, you will greatly enjoy this book. I took it in chunks and that was probably the best thing to do but I do recommend it for anyone who's curious about how chronic stress affects the human body.


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 Gard

Brilliant book, very insightful on the structures and sequences of stress, stress-responsiveness and consequential diseases and pathology related to socioeconomic status, perception of situations and broad inclusions of outcomes of certain upbringings.Loss of a rating would be to Sapolsky's almost loss of train of thought on a lot of topics, some metaphors are sporadic and unrelated, yet others are almost graceful in their applicability. However, in a lot of instances in his writings, he paints a very clear and concise picture when demonstrating various scenarios depicting stressful situations and the variables of outcomes, from as far as transient stress and it's coinciding joy (or pleasure), to chronic stress and the proceeding disease and mental dysfunctions.It is both humorous and intellectual, and boasts to be an item of utter genius.4/5 would read again.

Michael Connolly

Sapolsky is a physiologist and primatologist. He discusses the role of stress in many of the body's systems, including the cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal, growth, sex, immune, pain, mrmory, sleep, aging and mental health. The effects of stress are mediated by both the autonomic nervous system and hormones. The autonomic nervous system has three parts: the sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric. The sympathetic nervous system releases epinephrine and norepinephrine into the blood. The parasympathetic nervous system stimulates the production of insulin. Stress promotes insulin resistance, which can lead to Type II diabetis. The enteric nervous system is in the intestine and regulates digestion. Sapolsky concentrates mainly on the hormones. The major stress hormones are: epinephrine, norepinephrine, glucocorticoid and glucagon. The fast acting hormones are epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. But Sapolsky concentrates mainly on the long acting hormones, which are called glucocorticoids. The gluco comes from the fact that they help control glucose metabolism. The cortico is from where the body synthesizes them: the cortex of the adrenal glands, which sit on the kidneys. The oid is from steroid. Stress causes the production of glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids include cortisone and hydrocortisone, the latter also known as cortisol. Artificial glucocorticoids include prednisone and prednisolone, which are used medically to suppress immune response in autoimmune diseases, such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Cushing's Syndrome can be caused by being given too much cortisone, or naturally, by a tumor on the pituitary gland, in which case it is called Cushing's Disease. Addison's Disease is a rare disorder where the adrenal glands do not produce enough glucocorticoids. Sapolsky has a chapter on the relationship between stress and cardiovascular disease. LDL deposits cholesterol onto the arterial plaques. HDL removes cholesterol from plaques and deposits it in the liver. People with chronic fatigue syndrome have low levels of glucocorticoid in the blood stream. The vagus nerve slows down the heartbeat. Damaged heart muscle is more vulnerable to fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation often causes a heart attack and death. The term Type A was introduced by Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman in the 1960s to describe a personality type that was more likely to have heart disease. Their ideas have been refined over the years. Current opinion is tat unexpressed hostility is a risk factor for heart disease in young and middle aged people.There are two kinds of gastrointestinal disorder: organic and functional. Peptic ulcer is organic. IBS is functional. Functional disorders are sensitive to stress. IBS is caused by overly sensitive intestines. People with IBS have gassy and distended bowels. Childhood trauma is a cause of IBS.Australian pathologist Robert Warren discovered the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Barry Marshall found the link with ulcers. The combination of stress and H. Pylori causes ulcers.Sapolsky talks about stress dwarfism. Growth hormone stimulates bone growth, cell division and the release of energy stored in fat cells. People who have stressful childhoods tend to be shorter than average. The absence of physical affection from mothers is a cause of stress dwarfism. Sapolsky also talks about the importance of making sure that preemies get plenty of physical stimulation. Stress reduces the immune response, which is why we are more likely to get colds when we are stressed. Also, latent viruses can detect the level of glucocorticoid hormones. This has been found in the herpes, Epstein-Barr and varicella-zoster (chicken pox and shingles). The Freudian school saw depression as aggression turned inwards. Aaron Beck believes depression is more a thought disorder than an emotion disorder. Depressed people see the world in a pessimistic way. Martin Seligman introduced the concept of learned helplessness. Martin Seligman saw the depressed person not as generally pessimistic, but pessimistic regarding the effectiveness of his own actions. Three of the symptoms of depression can be correlated with neurotransmitters. Anhedonia (dysphoria) correlates with dopamine. Psychomotor retardation (sluggishness) involves norepinephrin. Suicidal ideation correlates with serotonin. The causes of depression include the stresses of life, a genetic predisposition, and low thyroid hormone. Unipolar depression is much more common in women than men. Currently, there is research to understand the relationship between female sex hormones and postpartum depression. Amygdala handles fear. Anxiety disorders inclued OCD, PTSD and phobias. People suffering from anxiety disorders have exagerated startle responses. They fear menace. The amygdala controls the emotional reaction to pain. When patients are given control over their morphine drip, it reduces the level of stress, even if the amount of medication is the same as the nurse-dispensed morphine. This is because the element of unpredicability is removed. When a patient presses the call button, the patient does not know how long it will take the nurse to show up, or whether the nurse will be willing to give the patient more morphine.

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