The Link Between Trauma and Disease
This Nutrition Bite looks at several common life factors repeatedly found with patients who get cancer… Together with a way to test your own life, history and vulnerability based on these common threads.
Some of the most well-known work that has been done to show the link between cancer and emotions was created by Dr. O. Carl Simonton.
Dr. Simonton was an oncologist and radiologist by profession and champion of the mind-body connection to fighting cancer. He worked with thousands of cancer patients from the 1970s until his death in 2009. (1)
Early on in his career, Simonton became curious why some patients would recover their health and others would die, when the diagnosis was the same for both. He began noticing that emotional and mental states played a key role in both the susceptibility to disease (including cancer), and in recovery from all disease. (2)
Simonton and other researchers have found there are certain characteristics that many cancer patients have in common.
- The presence of some form of major loss (such as a divorce, death of a loved one, job loss, etc.) roughly 6-18 months prior to receiving the cancer diagnosis
- Hard time forgiving themselves or others
- Poor self-image (even though they’re often considered unusually wonderful people by others) Inability to maintain healthy, long-term relationships
- A sense of hopeless frustration surrounding a conflict for which there is no solution
- Difficulty expressing negative feelings (bottling things up)
- A youth marked by feelings of isolation, neglect, and despair, with intense interpersonal relationships appearing difficult and dangerous
Biologically, this older research into emotional states and their link to cancer makes sense and has now been verified by more recent scientific inquiries. (3)
Emotional Stress Suppresses the Immune System
Persistent negative emotions and behaviors put the body in a state called psychological stress. Studies show that ongoing psychological stress can throw many mechanisms in the body off-balance, including hormonal balance via the HPA axis, sympathetic nervous system responses, and endocrine system functioning in general.
Psychological stress also raises inflammation. According to the inflammatory theory of disease, inflammation is the foundational state in which all diseases occur. (4)
According to research conducted at the University of Wisconsin’s Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center, psychological stress caused by negative emotions absolutely lowers the immune system. Lower immunity, of course, allows cancer cells to develop and spread. (5)
There is also a direct correlation between cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to conventional research, one in four women diagnosed with breast cancer also has PTSD. (6)
The National Cancer Institute also recognizes that the act of receiving a cancer diagnosis itself creates PTSD in many patients. (7)
What’s Your Stress Level?
Researchers have known for decades about the link between the amount of stress and emotional upset in people’s lives and the likelihood of getting sick.
One of the most well-known self-assessment tools for measuring the total stress you’re under is the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, developed in the late 1960s by psychiatrists Thomas H. Holmes and Richard Rahe.
The test recognizes that all major life events – even happy ones – require life adjustments and coping skills and can be a very useful tool for assessing your life and risk factors.
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