Research: Bone not adrenaline fuels stress response


New research changes the game

I love when ‘facts’ are blown out of the water, so this research from Columbia University Irving Medical Center has me all excited. Conventional wisdom says adrenaline is the driver of the stress response, but new research shows that osteocalcin, a hormone found in bones,  is the motivator. This is a missing link for me, and makes perfect sense, as I will explain.

I have been studying how stress affects animal health since shortly after I qualified in animal aromatherapy in 1999. I was getting great results with most of my clients, but then there were a few that just didn’t have the miraculous turn around I had come to expect. I had to figure out why.

Most of my clients came to me with behavioural problems, my speciality.  I have always advised about training and management as part of the session, which often reduced environmental stresses. I never intended to heal illness, just help people and their animals live together happily, but it is a happy side-effect of working holistically that you can’t do one without the other. I would offer neroli (citrus aurantium) to a dog with separation anxiety and his diarrhoea would clear up, along with his anxiety. Or a bad-tempered horse offered rose essential oil would start to have regular seasons as she became easier to handle.

But then there were those aforementioned few who didn’t respond, or got somewhat better but not completely. There were those who never lost interest in the oils, which they should as they heal, and if we stopped giving the oils they got worse again. There were some who refused to interact with oils at all.

What I noticed with those few that did not respond well to the essential oils, was that they were often living in a situation that was still stressful. For dogs this meant they never lost interest in the essential oil because they needed support to handle the stress. Horses on the other hand tended to refuse to interact with the essential oils at all, as they didn’t feel safe enough to heal. Sadly, they needed to stay closed down in order to survive their life of captivity.


As I learned my craft I learned to recognise, the stressors and find ways to remove them, and I started to understand the important role stress plays in animal wellness. I studied the physiology and psychology of stress and could see how chronic stress was a primary factor in many of the common problems I was presented with. I saw that by managing diet and providing an animal with his evolutionary social and dietary requirements, many of those problems evaporated. I understood how the hormonal cascade that is part of the stress response affects metabolism, the skin and all the internal organs. But I never considered bone.

Except in the context of the 5 Element Theory, one of the tools I use in my system.

Where ancient and modern meet

A part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Theory of the 5 Elements, or Phases links emotions and the internal structures of the body together. Each element ‘rules’ a set of functions. Water element is the ruler of survival, life and death situations is where this element is to be found. The emotion is fear, the body parts are bone and the ears!

Author of the study above, Gérard Karsenty, MD, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says, “If you think of bone as something that evolved to protect the organism from danger—the skull protects the brain from trauma, the skeleton allows vertebrates to escape predators, and even the bones in the ear alert us to approaching danger—the hormonal functions of osteocalcin begin to make sense,”

There have been attempts by Western practitioners of TCM to link the Water element to adrenal function, because of the previous understanding of adrenalin as the primary driver of survival (the flight/fight response),but it never quite made sense to me. And now, here we are, finally caught up with the ancient wisdom, which centuries ago, with no mice involved, intuited that it was all in the bones! I have a lot more thinking to do on this subject, exactly what the ramifications are in animal care and how I can use this information in my profession.

My first thought is whether it is implicated in racehorses fracturing their legs? It also could be why those stressed out over-heated horses itch so badly. I’ve always thought hormones are involved, but now I have new one to figure in. Will that change which essential oils and herbs I might offer? Give me more options?

Understand stress to enhance wellness

I really encourage anyone who lives or works with animals to understand how stress affects well-being. All domestic animals live with a certain amount of stress, because they are not in their natural environment. It may not be mental stress,  – I know plenty of dogs and cats who believe an armchair is their natural environment!- but physiological stress is often unseen until it presents as an illness. That’s why I wrote this course for you, and as a reward for making it to the end of this blog, here is a code that will give you 20% off at checkout: “stress20”.

If you understand what stress really is, you will be way ahead of the wellness game, and your animals will be as happy and healthy as they can be.  And I better go now, to update the course with the new research. 

We beg forgiveness from all the mice used in these tests. Om shanti, shanti, shanti. Let there be peace.

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