Stress is part of life…especially in the 21st century. A little stress is good for us, but when it becomes chronic, it creates all kinds of problems including cancer. Emotional or mood disturbances also contribute, particularly when the condition is long term.
Some facts and figures on stress and breast cancer
- Extreme stress and low support mechanisms have shown to increase cancer risk by a factor of 9.
- Chronic depression, lasting for more than 6 years, increases the chance of developing cancer.
- DNA damage is increased during periods of stress, leading to increased risk of cell mutation.
- Long term stress up-regulates signalling molecules that positively influence the growth of breast cancer cells and reduce immune responses.
- Disruption to stress hormone regulation has been shown to reduce cancer survival rates.
How does stress influence cell growth?
When we are under stress for long periods of time, genetic expression changes. This is an adaptation, a way of coping with stress in an attempt to maintain the status quo. While this is useful in the short term (fight or flight scenarios) and helps us to survive, when these changes continue to occur they create the right environment for damaged cells to replicate and form tumours.
The stress response causes a rise in blood glucose levels, changes in fat metabolism, and increases oxidative processes, giving rise to inflammation. These changes can cause big problems especially in parts of the body very sensitive to metabolic disruption, like breast tissue.
You can reduce the risks…
It’s very difficult to avoid stress and sleep deprivation with our fast-paced society. However, there are things that can assist with stress management, improve sleep quality and reduce the affects the body. Taking a good quality anti-oxidant can be useful. A healthy diet provides nutrients and minerals, exercise promotes the release of ‘anti-stress’ compounds by the body.
Having a good sleep routine is also very important to counter stress. Having at least 8 hours of good quality sleep supports the body’s restorative mechanisms and the immune system, so any defective cells can be terminated before they start to cause trouble!
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