Researchers have now identified a specific brain chemical that appears to influence how well you’ll perform under stress and how emotionally resilient you’ll be after a critical incident. The more you have of this powerful ingredient, called neuropeptide Y (NPY), the better off you’ll likely be when your life is on the line. ...
One recent NPY research project, conducted by Dr. Charles Morgan, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University, sought a better understanding of “how we regulate fear and anxiety in our bodies,” according to a report in Yale Scientific Magazine.
Morgan and colleagues tested NPY levels and cognitive functioning in soldiers before, during, and after exposure to the stress of survival training at Ft. Bragg, NC. They discovered a “positive correlation between elevated levels of neuropeptide Y and lucidity of mind.”
Specifically, special-forces soldiers, who averaged 33% higher plasma levels of NPY than general troops, “were found to possess clearer minds and to have out-performed other soldiers under stress. Likewise, soldiers in combat-dive training who released higher levels of NPY during stress “excelled in underwater navigation,” and hostage rescue team members with higher NPY levels also performed better under stress.
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Another research team, headed by Dr. Rachel Yehuda of the Traumatic Stress Studies Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NY, compared military combat veterans who developed PTSD to those who did not.
These researchers found a “significant” correlation between higher NYP levels, “a protective stress factor,” and “positive coping”; that is, “a biologic…resilience to or recovery from the adverse effects of stress.” In other words, Lewinski explains, “Neuropeptides are linked to healthy emotional recovery. The higher your level, the healthier recovery you have. ...
Much remains to be learned about NPY and its influence on performance and stress recovery. One area warranting further study concerns the impact of alcohol. According to Lewinski, animal tests suggest that alcohol consumption significantly impairs the production of NPY. “If this holds true for humans, this may present a difficult new issue for trainers and officers.”
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