Allostasis, homeostats, and the nature of stress

Stress. 2002 Feb;5(1):55-8. doi: 10.1080/102538902900012345.


This essay continues discussion of a new formulation of homeostasis that uses the concepts of allostasis and homeostats. The new formulation moves beyond Cannon's concept of "homeostasis," which posits an ideal set of conditions for maintenance of the internal environment. The notion of allostasis recognizes that there is no single ideal set of steady-state conditions in life, and different stressors elicit different patterns of activation of the sympathetic nervous and adrenomedullary hormonal systems. Allostasis reflects active, adaptive processes that maintain apparent steady states, via multiple, interacting effectors regulated by homeostatic comparators--"homeostats." "Allostatic load" refers to the consequences of sustained or repeated activation of mediators of allostasis. From the analogy of a home temperature control system, the temperature can be maintained at any of a variety of levels (allostatic states) by multiple means (effectors), regulated by the thermostat (homeostat). Allostatic load and risks of system breakdown increase when, for example, the front door is left open in the winter. Applying these notions can aid in understanding how acute and chronic stress can exert adverse health consequences via allostatic load.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*