It may sound like a strange idea, but the way you feel in your day-to-day life could indicate important clues about how likely you are to develop cancer.
If you feel stressed-out much of the time, those feelings often go hand in glove with things happening inside your body that are changing your physiology in ways that can lead to the spread of cancer cells.
Here’s what I mean. . .
Stressful jobs and cancer
Consider the fact that the job you go to every day, even if it doesn’t involve exposure to chemicals or other workday items that are carcinogenic, could be exposing you to carcinogenic stress.
Research at the Université de Montréal, in Canada, shows that long-term, chronic stress on the job is connected to an increased risk of cancer. In the study, this type of prolonged stress made men more likely to develop colon, rectal, stomach and lung cancer as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a cancer that starts in white blood cells).1
This research, which only looked at men, extended for more than 30 years. The researchers found that the men who worked a stressful job for more than 15 years had the highest risk of cancer.
The researchers also discovered that the stressful jobs most likely to be associated with cancer included being a firefighter, industrial engineer, aerospace engineer, mechanic foreman, and vehicle and railway-equipment repair worker.
The scientists point out that how you perceive your job is crucial to determining its effect on your cancer chances. If you feel your job is very stressful – even if other people don’t think it is – your feeling of being stressed determines how powerful a threat your job represents to you.
The researchers also note that experiencing constant pressure to worry about sales commissions, keeping customers happy, job responsibilities, financial complications (both at work and at home), dangerous work conditions, supervising other employees, disagreements with other workers and a tiring commute all contribute to daily, health-compromising stress.
When hormones attack
Stress stimulates the release of various hormones including epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Both of these hormones are created by the adrenal glands and certain parts of the nervous system. The hormones also function as neurotransmitters — helping neurons communicate – and stimulate changes in the heart rate, blood pressure, brain focus and other areas that prepare the body to respond to stress.
Together these two hormones produce your body’s so-called “fight or flight” response – upping the body’s readiness to either fight against a threat or run away from it.
But there’s a darker side to the ways these hormones affect the body: On a cellular level, they can help jumpstart the growth of tumors, make it easier for tumors to invade organs and help stimulate the creation of extra blood vessels that nourish cancer cells (a process called angiogenesis).2
And there’s more bad news – lab tests show that these hormones can also lead to genetic damage, warping DNA in a way that encourages cancer cell replication. At the same time, these hormones make it harder for cells to repair the DNA damage.3
Lab tests at the University of Pittsburgh confirm that when prolonged stress causes the body to continually over-produce epinephrine and norepinephrine, the result can be permanent, cancer-promoting genetic changes.4
The stress hormone cortisol can be another source of physical damage. Cortisol is also produced by the adrenal glands — and adds to the cancer-promoting mix of hormones. Research shows that cortisol can speed the growth of breast cancer and cause it to be more dangerous and aggressive.5 It can also spur the growth of lung cancer.6
Now, I’ve learned this whole thing is a touchy subject; some people take offense at the mention of emotional factors as a cause of cancer. They feel it’s a case of blaming the victim or that, in their case, it simply wasn’t a cause at all.
So please understand, stress is A cause of cancer. It’s not the ONE AND ONLY cause of cancer. It’s one of many. By itself it probably doesn’t cause that many cancer cases. It becomes lethal when combined with exposure to toxins, obesity, high blood sugar, lack of important nutrients, lack of exercise, lack of sleep and other factors. We’re exposed to so many chemicals in our society, and most of us have such unhealthy eating and exercise habits, those factors trump emotions as a cause of cancer.
Fighting off stress
Because stress has become such a large part of modern life — and an obvious danger to health — researchers around the world have been looking into how to keep it under control and moderate its effects.
Here’s just one idea, but a new and interesting one: A study at the University of Georgia shows that the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals found in certain vegetables that are already known to be important for eye health, can help the body fend off stress and reduce the amount of cortisol traveling around in the body.7
The Georgia investigation, performed on about 60 people and lasting a year, found that lutein and zeaxanthin supplements damped down psychological discomfort and improved emotional feelings of well-being.
The foods that are particularly rich in these two nutrients include green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach as well as egg yolks.
Stress-reducing foods can also help
Another dietary way to shrink stress is to simply eat more fruits and vegetables.
In a four-year study in Australia that included 60,000 people, women reaped stress-reducing benefits from loading up on fruits and vegetables. Those who consumed five to seven servings a day of fruits and vegetables had 23 percent less perceived stress than those who only ate one serving daily or didn’t have any fruits and vegetables.8
Among men and women combined, eating five to seven servings daily reduced stress by 14 percent compared to those who ate less than four servings.
I’m inclined to be cautious about these findings because people who eat that many fruits and vegetables are likely to have other healthy habits as well. So it’s hard to say if the eating habits account for all or most of their emotional wellbeing. My takeaway is that all good habits tend to go together.
Meanwhile research has uncovered another easy way to reduce stress – and it will probably seem strange to you: silently talk to yourself in the third person.
A study at Michigan State University that scanned people’s brains found that watching disturbing images produced less activity in areas of the brain linked to emotional stress if folks silently spoke to themselves about it in the third person – addressing themselves as though they were advising somebody else.9
“Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similarly to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain,” says researcher Jason Moser. “That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”
Of course, other ways to control your emotions and stress are exercise and meditation – and they’re much more effective than talking to yourself. There’s a ton of research to support the abundant health benefits.
And perhaps one of the most important anti-stress methods is to avoid stress in the first place. I know that’s not always possible. If you are a caregiver for a sick parent or you have a child with a drug problem, you can’t walk away from the source of your upset. But if your job is creating unmanageable stress in your life, do everything you can to find employment that is less troublesome.
The reward could be a lower risk of cancer and a longer life.
Our last issue talked about a popular alternative remedy, colloidal silver, that many people use to fight infections. It appears to have some merit as a cancer remedy, too, but proceed with caution. . .
The article is running again below in case you missed it.