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Could Stress Be Killing You? Understanding the Link Between Stress and Cancer.

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Stress can hugely impact our overall health, and one of the risks it poses is an increased risk of cancer. Studies have found that people with high-stress levels are more likely to develop certain types of cancer, including breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Stress can also worsen existing cancer symptoms, making treatment and recovery more complex.

The total burden of chronic stress and life events is defined as allostatic load in research. Essentially, it’s the wear and tear on the body from repeated stress. In research studies, the allostatic load is measured through 10 markers:

1. Cortisol

2. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

3. Epinephrine

4. Norepinephrine

5. Cholesterol

6. Glycosylated hemoglobin (HgbA1c)

7. Resting systolic blood pressure

8. Resting diastolic blood pressure

9. Body mass index

10. Waist-hip ratio

The first four markers are the primary mediators of allostatic load as they are connected to our adrenal function. The following six are secondary markers.

In a study published in Social Science and Medicine Population Health Journal, Moore and colleagues looked at the role of allostatic load and cancer-associated death in different racial and ethnic groups. The researchers examined 41,218 individuals from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 2019.

There were several interesting findings in the study. Compared to patients with low allostatic load, patients with high allostatic load tended to be:

· Older (mean age, 53.2 years vs. 39.4 years)

· Black (12.9% vs. 8.4%)

· Have a higher BMI (30.7 kg/m² vs. 25.5 kg/m²)

· Diagnosed with congestive heart failure (3.9% vs. 0.8%)

· Diagnosed with a heart attack (5.6% vs. 1.7%)

· Have a history of cancer (11.3% vs. 5.7%)

Overall, patients with high allostatic load had a 14% higher risk for cancer-associated death. There was also an 18% higher risk among white individuals. Black and Hispanic individuals had nonsignificant associations. However, among participants younger than 40 years, black individuals had a 106% higher risk, and white individuals had a 95% higher risk of death due to cancer.

The critical take-home here is we all need to focus on stress reduction. This is the basis for the SELF Principle: sleep more, move more, practice gratitude and kindness, and eat a whole-food, plant-based diet.


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