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The Link Between Stress and Cancer…How Fat Can Reverse Its Deadly Effects

I’m sure you feel the stress of your daily life from the minute you wake up.

There are projects due for work, decisions to make for your family, unresolved arguments, stress about money and finances, traffic jams, and not to mention what little time you do actually have left, you worry about your health.

Yet your stress levels are the little-known cause of most chronic diseases − including cancer.

Disease feeds off stress.

Cancer is no different, the more stress you experience creates a surge of a survival hormone. This hormone controls the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ instinct in your body. It’s called cortisol.

A long time we needed this hormone to keep us safe and secure. But since you usually don’t need to run from wild animals or do huge amounts of physical labor, you don’t need this hormone constantly running unchecked through your body.

Yet, because of the stress in your daily life, this hormone surges wildly through your veins wreaking havoc on your health.

The relationship between stress and cancer and other disease is complex. Research studies prove that chronic or long-term stress dramatically suppresses your immune system. Stress also increases production of catecholamines − a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands when you are under physical and emotional stress. This hormone also damages the immune system.

The Damaging Effects of Chronic Stress

Here are some of the negative impacts to the body when it experiences constant stress:

  • Trigger the release of histamines making it difficult for asthma sufferers to breathe

  • Change the acid concentration in the stomach, which can cause peptic and stress ulcers

  • Increase the risk of diabetes

  • Raise the incidence of mental illness and increase the risk of depression

  • Increase plaque buildup in the arteries

Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

In the United Kingdom, nearly 180,000 people die each year from some form of stress related illness, according to statistics from Meridian Stress Management Consultancy in the UK.

Stress, Cancer, and Your Immune System

The Department of Psychiatry, School of Medical Sciences, at the University of Malaysia discovered that chronic stress prevents the rapid creation of infection fighting T-cells and prevents quick immune reaction. Over 293 independent studies from 1960 through 2001 confirmed that stress alters immunity.

The Role of Stress in Breast Cancer

The relationship between breast cancer and stress deserves specific consideration.

A cohort study by the Finnish Cancer Organization and several Universities in Finland, studied over 10,808 women who experienced traumatic life events (the loss of a loved one/husband, personal illness, divorce, or loss of a job).

These findings suggest that life events and the accompanying psychological reactions could increase breast cancer risk. Cancer diagnosis occurred within five to seven years of the traumatic life event.

A study from the American Psychological Association discovered that there is a link between stress, cancerous tumor development, and a specific type of natural killer white blood cells called NK cells.

NK cells are the strongest link to fighting certain types of cancer (liver, kidney, colorectal, and breast). They prevent metastasis and destroy small metastases. Stress suppresses NK-cell activity.

Researchers at New York State University at Stony Brook found that men with a high level of stress and a lack of satisfying relationships had an increased risk, nearly three times higher, of developing prostate cancer.

Your psychological state can have a direct impact on cancer.

Stress Reduction and Healing Essential Fatty Acids: Your 2-Step Approach to Cancer Prevention

You can reverse the damage of stress and revitalize your immune system with a two-step plan of attack:

  1. You can lessen your stress levels by engaging in mindful daily practices such as meditation. Even a brisk 10-minute walk every day can help reduce your blood pressure, elevate your mood, and eliminate anxiety.

  2. The most overlooked factor in stress reduction is that it is critical to nourish your body with healing essential fatty acids.

There is a reason why delicious foods like macaroni and cheese, a juicy rib eye steak, and ice cream are called comfort foods. They contain high levels of FAT.

Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to eat a gallon of ice cream. Fat activates the pleasure centers in your brain and creates a surge of dopamine. You can get the same lift in your mood from essential fatty acids found in previously forbidden fats.

Ancient cultures knew fat healed, and science is just now beginning to understand the chemo-protective and cancer preventing effects of essential fatty acids. In fact, one of the last populations on earth had dietary habits that remained unchanged for centuries. The native islanders of Kitava in Papau New Guinea were studied extensively in the 80s and 90s in a study known as the Malinowski study.

Of the 23,000 people, there was not a single instance of cancer, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, dementia, or diabetes. In fact, their diet consisted of 30-60% fat.

Essential fatty acids boosted their immunity and they can do the same for you.

Since stress suppresses your immune system, a way to neutralize the surges of cortisol that are running out of control is to combat them with essential fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) that your body requires to live but cannot produce on its own. They must be consumed through diet.

The Job of Essential Fatty Acids

  • Produce healthy cell membranes and regulate genetic function

  • Normalize growth and development

  • Transport and break down cholesterol

  • Enable proper blood clotting

  • Regulate blood pressure as well as contraction and relaxation of arterial walls

  • Balance hormone activity, metabolic processes, and thyroid function

  • Ensure reproductive health

  • Maintain liver and kidney function

  • Control inflammation and the immune response

  • Support brain and central nervous system health

  • Promote hair and skin health

  • Assist in balancing mood and behavior disorders

The Western diet contains an excessively high amount of cancer causing omega-6 fatty acids and a low amount of cancer preventing omega-3 fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids are critical in the prevention of disease. The types of dietary fats you eat are vital for preventing heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes − which are responsible for 80% of all deaths in the United States.

UCLA School of Medicine in California found that anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids prevented the development and progression of prostate cancer by altering the COX-2 expression and prostaglandin production in prostate tissue.

In Western nations, we eat far too many damaged omega-6’s in the form of processed foods, fast foods, and refined oils that lead to free radical damage. Studies of populations that eat large amounts of fish or consume fish oil have reduced risk of colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Studies have shown that the average American consumes between 14 to 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids!

A study from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition, and Health, in Washington, DC estimates that in Western diets the ratio is 15:1 to 16.7:1 (omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids).

You need both essential fatty acids in the proper ratios. Most non-industrial populations have an ideal range of omega-6 to omega-3 ratios of 4:1 or 1:4.

Best Natural Sources of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

  • Fatty fish such as sardines, herring, salmon, shrimp, cod, and tuna

  • Grass fed beef and bison

  • Grass fed butter

  • Krill oil

  • Flaxseeds

  • Walnuts

  • Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, and winter squash

  • Lean beef

  • Spinach, kale, leafy greens, romaine lettuce, and fresh basil

Best Natural Sources of Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids

  • Walnuts, Brazil nuts, and peanuts

  • Peanut butter

  • Pumpkin seeds and squash seeds

  • Safflower seeds

As Western society struggles under the epidemics of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and dementia, there are places in the world with small pockets of people that experience little to none of these health conditions. Look for ways to reduce your stress and improve your ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in your diet to help prevent cancer and other disease.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2015.

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