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Manage Your Stress to Protect Your Immune System

Stress is an inevitable part of life and yet there is mounting evidence [1] that it may be a risk factor for Breast Cancer as well as Breast Cancer tumor aggressiveness. [2]

Both psychological and physical stress, such as repressed anger, poor sleep, depression, poor nutrition, toxins, and chronic stress [3], can contribute to the formation and spread of cancer. Basically, stress suppresses the immune system and cancer cells takes advantage of that.

Here’s what happens at the cellular level when stress goes unmanaged:

  1. The immune system is compromised. The body releases cortisol in response to stress and, when stress is intense and chronic, it leads to a weakened immune system.
  2. Stress causes cell glucose levels to increase. High stress cortisol levels cause the depletion of adrenaline and the elevation of glucose (sugar) within normal cells. This leaves less room for oxygen in healthy cells and can fuel the growth of cancer cells since cancer cells love sugar.
  3. Fungus feeds on glucose. Once glucose levels increase, bacteria and fungi begin to invade these weakened cells to feed on the excess glucose. In this stage of fermentation, unhealthy, mutated cells begin to veer from the normal Krebs metabolic cycle. [4] The lack of oxygen and excess sugar cause the cells to mutate. In addition, the waste by-product caused by the bacteria/fungi result in an acidic environment, [5] in which cancer cells thrive.
  4. Fungus and cancer form a relationship. At this point, fungus forms an interdependent relationship with the newly-created cancer cells and tumors begin to form.

An essential aspect of being proactive with prevention is maintaining a strong Immune System.

Here’s one more reason why a strong immune system matters

A recent study [6] revealed that it may be stress that also fuels the spread of cancer. The study found that stress may actually be triggering a master gene called ATF3.Immune System 5 [7]

In normal circumstances, ATF3 is activated as a response to external stress. It causes normal cells to self-destruct if they are irreparably damaged by outside stressors. The study found that cancer cells may be using this same technique to “encourage” immune system cells that are already at the site of a cancer tumor to express the ATF3 gene. This causes the immune system cells to malfunction and gives cancer an escape path to other areas of the body. In fact, the study found that the expression of this gene was linked to a poorer prognosis in Breast Cancer patients.

“If the body is in perfect balance, there isn’t much of a problem,” said Tsonwin Hai, [6] professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “When the body gets stressed, that changes the immune system. And the immune system is a double-edged sword.”

You CAN learn to manage your stress

The good news is that you have control over how you respond to what life throws your way. It’s a matter of discovering the right tools to help you cope.

I highly recommend a very simple and effective way to help you relax quickly. It can be done anywhere and it is very easy to do. When you start to feel overwhelmed, catch yourself and take a moment to identify where in your body that you feel the stress.  Breathe into that part of your body, visualizing your breath releasing and calming the stress. Hold the breath to a count of 10, then let it go and repeat 10 times. Sounds simple but you will really feel your stress level drop a notch.

You might also consider adding the following to your stress buster toolbox:

  • Exercise [8] – a simple 30 minute walk or 20 minutes of burst training can blow off some steam and get your happy hormones (endorphins) flowing.
  • Journaling – find a cozy spot to write down what it is your are feeling.
  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga
  • Meditation [9]
  • Guided imagery with CD programs like The Silva Method [10]
  • Meridian tapping [11] – acupuncture for the emotions.

The key is to incorporate these kinds of activities so that you are constantly managing the pressures and challenges of each day and not waiting until you are feeling overwhelmed. Applying Essential #4 to healing (Heal Your Emotional Wounds) is about learning simple techniques to effectively manage life’s everyday stressors.