The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Legacy of the Saber Tooth Tiger: A Few Unkind Words About Stress


Whatever the problem—heart, cancer, diabetes—stress is arguably Public Enemy #1 for half of what ails this nation. And when it comes to immune system health, stress rings cash registers. Advertising budgets dedicated to pushing the stress button are worth what Ted Turner would call “serious cash money.” The root briar of an estimated 20 billion dollar a year volume of advertising, stress is Big Business.

It is now more or less common knowledge that the most potent immune system suppressor is stress. Especially chronic stress—the kind suffered by all of us from the moment are diagnosed with prostate cancer. So manufacturers of specialty foods, supplements, herbs and minerals are climbing onto the bandwagon and claiming that their products are “immune system boosters.” However, if you look carefully you will see that 90% of their claims are laced with hedge-your-bet qualifying terms like “might,” “perhaps,” “could” and “can sometimes.” This is the stuff that scams are made of these days.

So when you don’t know whether your job is being abolished, and you are seeing your savings dwindle to nothing, and your anxiety over your children’s future is keeping you awake at night, and then, on top of all that, you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, how can you hope to cope with this kind of chronic stress barrage? What can you do that will genuinely assist your immune system to function efficiently?

The three tried and true stress busters are simple enough. They are diet, exercise, and meditation. You don’t have to pump iron or run marathons, or subsist on tofu, berries, and leafy greens. But in order to fight cancer successfully, you do need to eat a healthy diet and find a type of exercise you enjoy. And, at least as important, you need to find some kind of meditation that you can live with—it can be as little as fifteen minutes a day!—because it does reduce the stress that inevitably ramps up with a cancer diagnosis.

If you’re interested, you might check into the fairly new field of Psychoneuroimmunology. You’ll learn about the legacy of the saber tooth tiger, and how to distinguish the activity of the adrenal system from that of the immune system. Because there are two distinct conditions: there’s growth and there’s protection, but you can’t have both at the same time. And when any threat mobilizes the body with the old “fight or flight” response, the adrenal (stress) hormones directly repress the action of the immune system. Result: almost every major illness has been linked to chronic stress.

It is now fairly well established that what goes on in our minds absolutely affects our bodies.  There is no question that our thoughts and our beliefs generate a cascade of chemicals that can act to either harm us or heal us. So my best recommendation to you is to believe wholeheartedly that whatever treatment you decide on will be totally successful. And when the stress gets to you, you don’t have to sit crossed-legged on the floor and repeat a mantra provided by a guru in the Himalayas. Just turn on some relaxing music, breathe slowly and deeply, and imagine yourself walking on a beach, or in a forest—whatever works for you—and see yourself relaxed and healthy. Relieving the chronic stress of living with prostate cancer is arguably taking a long step on the road to recovery.

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