Updated: May 19
I believe in science. And, I especially like it when smart scientists prove the unequivocal benefits of the lifestyle practices I choose for myself and that I teach my clients. Most recently, I was especially heartened with how some of those same smart scientists have now proven that our emotional state is directly linked to cancer proliferation. Yikes! That alone makes me want to take a spa day (not like I need an excuse for that wish, but that’s a different article).
There’s actually a science called PsychoneuroImmunology (PNI), that is solely dedicated to the interaction between psychological processes, the nervous system and the immune system of the human body. PNI investigates how life stressors are associated with immune dysregulation and the subsequent growth of cancer tumors. They discovered this by specifically looking at the relationship between decreased lymphocytes (white blood cells) and NK (natural killer) cells and the occurrence of cancer.
One particular study simply looked at 2nd year medical students and found that the production of interferon dramatically plummeted during final exams. Interferon is a signaling protein released in the presence of certain pathogens. It also helps grow the good NK cells. We want our interferon! I think we can all understand the biochemistry of stress effects from a med school final exam. When we know our career could be in jeopardy because of the test we are about to take, it makes sense that cortisol (the stress hormone) is released and shuts down our immune system. It’s a bit less easy to grasp that our thoughts and emotions can also contribute to cancer! However, we’ve all heard of or have known of an individual with cancer who has experienced a sudden shift in their remission rate simply by changing their outlook and beliefs around their illness.
So, what, in particular, does this science say we should do to arm ourselves against the perils of stress and thus, cancer?
Practice 3 lifestyle habits:
Breathwork. Reframe Your Thinking. Meditate.
BREATHWORK. Breathing deeply and purposefully creates multiple defenses against cancer by releasing toxins through filtration via the lungs, balancing our autonomic nervous system, reducing blood pressure, reducing cortisol levels, increasing oxygen delivery to cells and stimulating 1200 stress-reducing genes. One study on breathwork found a 46.3% increase in SIgA (antibody that protects gut lining) in cancer patients. Try belly breathing for 2 minutes, once in the morning and once in the evening.
MANAGE THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS. By reframing the way you think and by purposefully reaching for “feel-good” emotions throughout the day, you can actually rewire your brain and nervous system, thus positively affect your immune system. Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness speaks of “self-directed neuroplasticity”. Try to notice when something positive occurs and stay with the feeling for 12-20 seconds. Sounds easy, huh? Well, instead, most of us experience something positive and either immediately dismiss it or switch to noticing something negative or worrisome. If you can purposefully notice the good things and FEEL the emotion associated with the good experience for up to 20 seconds (all day long), you will have armed yourself against cancer!
MEDITATE. You don’t have to be a zen monk on a mountain to attain the cancer -reducing benefits of meditation. I teach my clients that 10 minutes of meditative stillness/day can make a huge difference in the quality of their whole-body health. In fact, look at these statistical tidbits. A UCLA study run by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn (and for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize!) showed that just 12 minutes of meditation for eight weeks increased telomerase (immortality enzyme) activity by 43%.
Another study run by Dr. Dean Ornish established a relationship between meditation and genes in prostate cancer. An NIH project found that stress-reducing meditation was 2 1/2 times more effective in reducing blood pressure than conventional relaxation. At John Hopkins, researchers showed that just eight weeks of meditation training was as effective as medication in treating depression, anxiety, and pain. (Are you convinced yet?)
One more….Researchers ran genomic analyses of the blood and found that people who meditated regularly suppressed more than twice the number of stress-related genes than the non-meditating group.
Thank goodness for these tireless scientists who invented something as complicated as PsychoNeuroImmunology and who proved that we CAN have a positive effect on cancer by managing our minds and souls as well as our bodies.
Purposefully breathe deeply 2x/day, think happy thoughts as often as you can and meditate for 10 minutes/day.
And, be healthy!