Posts tagged: stress

Postcards to the fetus

Romanian Stamps PostcardI mentioned last week that a new book by Annie Paul likens a fetus’s experience in the womb to getting “biological postcards” from the world outside. Babble followed up their review of the book with a couple of excerpts.

One is on food, and I love that Paul doesn’t just parrot warnings about sushi but observes that setting up food as dangerous to a fetus, and the mother as responsible for that danger, has as much to do with our culture’s screwed-up attitudes about eating and motherhood as it does with biology. Taking the postcard view, a mom is sharing flavors (not to mention nutrients) with her little parasite.

The other one, on stress, is likewise fascinating. I’d love to hear the story of how stress went from “not on the list” of risk factors for pre-term birth to being considered a number-one cause of it. Meanwhile, the placenta breaks down some of the stress hormone, cortisol, but mild stress may be necessary for later cognition.

I just came across a study today showing that people who were in utero during a WWII famine in the Netherlands may have trouble with selective attention tasks as they get older. The authors think this means their cognition is declining faster than average, because people typically do worse on this test as they age. Previous studies on the “Dutch Famine Birth Cohort,” as this group is called, showed that they are more prone to heart disease and diabetes.

I have to wonder, in light of the “postcards from outside” hypothesis, whether being worse at selective attention means being better at something else. Could a supposedly poor score on the test reflect something like multitasking ability? And could that ability be adaptive in the face of periodic famines?

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