BY RALPH BLUM
a light on stress from a different angle always yields new insights. The very
term “stress management” is like a suitcase you can unpack layer by layer.
can be no doubt that emotional factors influence biology. Some studies indicate
that stress plays a role in causing the occurrence and recurrence of prostate
cancer. In fact, most major illnesses have been linked to chronic stress.
a diagnosis of cancer, and living with cancer, can cause an enormous burden of
stress. While experiencing feelings such as depression, despair, anger and fear
is totally understandable, if those feelings are not recognized and “managed,” they put endless wear and tear on
the body until eventually the immune system—our most powerful defense against
cancer—is no longer capable of performing its job efficiently.
body has its own stress inhibitors.
Consider cortisol. Known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is synthesized
from cholesterol, produced in the adrenal cortex, and secreted during a stress
response. Among cortisol’s primary functions are: to aid in fat and protein
metabolism, and to redistribute energy to those regions of the body that need
it most; for example, to the brain and major muscles during a fight-or-flight
situation. Most important, cortisol helps to regulate the body’s inflammatory
response to stress, which it does by increasing blood sugar through the process
known as gluconeogenesis. However, during
long periods of chronic stress, cortisol is over-produced, and when
cortisol levels are too high, the result is a disruption of its anti-inflammatory
by Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology and director of the Laboratory for
the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease at Carnegie Mellon University, a teamof researchers found that chronic psychological stress was associated with the
body losing its ability to regulate its inflammatory response and fight
infection. They found that, over a prolonged period of stress, body tissue
becomes desensitized to cortisol and the hormone loses its effectiveness in
regulating inflammation. As a result, disease can prosper.
links between psychological stress and metastatic growth of disease suggest
that stress management should be an integral part of cancer treatment—and
possibly the treatment of all inflammatory diseases.
I completed six weeks of Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) at St.
John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, part of the post-procedural
concern was monitoring levels of inflammation. For that reason I continued to
take Avodart, a drug that both inhibits the transition of testosterone to the
more pernicious dihydrotestosterone and acts to keep inflammation levels down.
At the same time, I began consciously to monitor my own stress levels and
mindfully work to diminish them.
speaking, one thing we can we do is to consider the potential benefits of
“mind-body medicine,” which embraces such practices as relaxation therapy
techniques, yoga, meditation and tai chi, all of which have been found to be
useful as de-stressing activities.
those of you who think of meditation as an exotic eastern exercise, check out Meditation
for Dummies by Stephan Bodian (Wiley Publishing). On the other hand, some
people respond well to biofeedback or hypnotherapy. Moreover, it seems that
just stroking your pet cat or dog for a few minutes each day has a significant
the very least, adding some form of stress management to whatever conventional
treatment you elect to undergo will certainly improve your quality of life—and at
the same time enhance your chances of recovery.