Scientific and medical research have proven a healthy immune system tracks down and kills cancer cells throughout your body. It is because of your immune system that most cancer cells never get an opportunity to form into a tumor.
However, a weakened immune system makes your body more hospitable to cancer development and progression.
Chronic Stress Promotes Cancer
Current studies reveal that chronic stress promotes cancers by weakening the immune system. Worse, stress hormones secreted by your body aid cancer cell growth. Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” is activated in reaction to stress. It promotes cancer by suppressing the immune system. It also helps cancer tumors develop blood vessels which are essential for a cancer tumor to be able to grow.
When you encounter an emergency stressor (a bear on the hiking path or a middle of the night home intruder) your body prepares for “fight or flight.” Your brain causes the essential parts of your body to go into a high emergency mode. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline cascade throughout your body, causing you to prepare for the emergency.
Your heart rate accelerates, raising blood pressure, and muscles tense so you can take quick action,
At the same time the body is preparing to stave off attack, the brain curtails all bodily operations that are not essential in an emergency situation.
Energy is directed away from the digestive system and digestion slows. Immune cells are directed to get out-of-the-way. Immune cells flatten and paste themselves to the sides of the blood vessels, like automobile traffic pulling to the side of the road while emergency vehicles pass. Immune cells in the body are instructed by the brain to remain inactive so as not to hinder the flow of emergency oxygen and nutrients.
After the emergency is over, immune cells are then instructed to continue their search throughout the body and normal digestion continues.
The pressures of our everyday lives cause emotions of fear, anxiety, sadness, resentment, guilt, anger, panic, and feelings of hopelessness – stress! As a result, it is as if the “stress switch” is stuck in a perpetual stress response mode. In this state, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline continue to flow into the body.
Multiple studies have shown that prolonged elevated levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have negative health effects, including:
- Aids cancer cell growth by helping cancers develop new blood vessels.
- Lowers immune response.
- Increases blood pressure.
- Impairs cognitive performance.
- Increases abdominal fat.
To keep cortisol levels healthy and under control, the body’s relaxation response should be activated after the fight or flight response occurs. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, and you can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stressful situations in the first place.
Modern life is stressful and getting more so. Between 75 and 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians result from stress related disorders.
Stressful events are often unavoidable. However, these stress causing events need not result in stress hormones, like cortisol, cascading through our bodies. Stress hormones are not the result of events that happen to us, but rather our emotional response to these events. We do have control over our responses to stressful events.
Restoring your immune health is dependent upon you taking control of your response to each stressful event. In the next series of posts, I will discuss several proven stress management techniques.