Another recent piece of research shows one of the ways that emotional stress can affect health. Their focus was on racism, but the part I want to pick up on is stress, taking racial discrimination as an example of a stressor.

The *International Journal of Behavioral Medicine* has scheduled an article for publication in a future issue: “Racial Discrimination Is Associated with a Measure of Red Blood Cell Oxidative Stress: A Potential Pathway for Racial Health Disparities.”

The authors are Sarah L. Szanton, Joseph M. Rifkind, Joy G. Mohanty, Edgar R. Miller, Roland J. Thorpe, Eneka Nagababu, Elissa S. Epel, Alan B. Zonderman, and Michele K. Evans.

Conditions associated with perceived racial discrimination are higher blood pressure, increased obesity, cardiovascular reactivity, worse self-reported health, and earlier morbidity

How does this happen?

From their abstract:
“Oxidative stress is the process by which “free radicals” or reactive oxygen species damage cellular components including DNA, proteins, and lipids. “Oxidative stress” is the term for the imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species and intrinsic protection mechanisms. There is a small literature suggesting that psychological stress may increase oxidative stress. ”

They conclude: “In summary, these findings suggest that there could be identifiable physiologic pathways by which psychological stress amplifies risk of cardiovascular and other age related diseases”, i.e. oxidative stress.

Again, stress-related disease is not “all in your head”, emotions really do have an impact on the body and on health, and again, it’s not all just a matter of chemistry. Biology interacts with the environment, and so-called chemical imbalances are not just a product of unfortunate genes.

The Mayo Clinic issued the following news release:

Migraine: Many Options To Prevent And Treat

Article Date: 11 Apr 2010

A migraine is not your average headache.  The pain of a migraine may
feel dull, deep, intense or throbbing.  That pain often sends migraine
sufferers in search of a dark, quiet place to lie down.  Untreated,
migraines can last from four to 72 hours.

The April issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource provides an overview
of migraine prevalence, causes, triggers, treatments and prevention.

Highlights include:

Prevalence: An estimated 30 million Americans cope with migraine. Women
outnumber men by 2 or 3 to 1.

Causes: The cause of migraine isn’t fully understood, but both genetic
and environmental factors play a role. Migraines often run in families.

Triggers: Many factors or events may trigger an attack, including
stress; menstruation; use of oral contraceptives; changes in weather;
going too long without eating; lack of sleep or too much sleep; bright
lights, glare, loud noises or strong odors; alcohol; caffeine (too much
or withdrawal); and certain foods (aged cheese, cured meats, chocolate,
fried foods, others).

Medication: For mild to moderate migraine attacks, over-the-counter
medications work well. They are most effective when taken as soon as
symptoms begin. Options include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin,
others), acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve,
others), and combination pain relievers such as Excedrin Migraine. For
severe headaches, several prescription medications are options, too.

Other treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback training and
relaxation techniques may make migraine medication more effective or
reduce the need for it. Getting enough sleep, sticking with a regular
schedule, eating regular meals, staying physically active, limiting
alcohol and caffeine and managing stress also are important.

Prevention: Preventive treatment can reduce the headache burden by one-
third to one-half or more. A doctor can discuss preventive medications
that may be helpful, such as blood pressure medications, antidepressants
and anti-seizure drugs. In addition, injections of botulinum toxin type
A (Botox) into the scalp muscles can help prevent migraine. Injections
need to be repeated every three months. The herbal products feverfew and
butterbur may prevent migraine, through the benefits haven’t been
proved. Supplements of coenzyme Q10 may also be useful for some people.

Migraine is a chronic condition. Episodes can occur anywhere from one or
twice a year to once or twice a week. Symptoms can be controlled by
working with a primary health care provider.

The Medical College of Wisconsin issued the following news release:

Heart Disease Patients Who Practice Transcendental Meditation Have
Nearly 50% Lower Rates of Heart Attack, Stroke, and Death

Results of first-ever study presented at annual meeting of the American
Heart Association in Orlando, Nov. 16

Patients with coronary heart disease who practiced the stress-reducing
Transcendental Meditation(R) technique had nearly 50 percent lower rates
of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to nonmeditating controls,
according to the results of a first-ever study presented during the
annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla., on
Nov.16, 2009.
(more…)

From BBC News today:

Loneliness makes cancer ‘more likely and deadly’

Doctors know depressed cancer patients have poorer survival rates. Fresh evidence adds weight to suggestions that loneliness makes cancer both more likely and deadly.  Work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows social isolation tips the odds in favour of aggressive cancer growth.

Rodents kept alone developed more tumours – and tumours of a more deadly type – than rats living as a group. The researchers put it down to stress and say the same may well be true in humans. Cancer experts say more work is needed to prove such a link in people. Lead investigator Gretchen Hermes, of Yale University, said: “There is growing interest in relationships between the environment, emotion and disease. “This study offers insight into how the social world gets under the skin.”

Stress

Doctors already know that cancer patients who are depressed tend to fare worse in terms of survival.  And previous research has suggested that social support can improve health outcomes for patients with breast cancer. In the latest study, the researchers found that isolation and stress trebled the risk of breast cancer in the naturally sociable Norway rats. Outcast rodents developed 84 times the amount of tumours as those living in tight-knit social groups, and the tumours also proved to be more aggressive. The isolated mammals also had higher levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and took longer to recover from a stressful situation than fellow Norway rats.  The researchers ultimately hope their work will help cancer patients.

Lifestyle

Co-researcher Martha McClintock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, said: “We need to use these findings to identify potential targets for intervention to reduce cancer.”  Ed Yong, of Cancer Research UK, said: “This study was done in rats. “Overall, research in humans does not suggest there is a direct link between stress and breast cancer. “But it’s possible that stressful situations could indirectly affect the risk of cancer by making people more likely to take up unhealthy behaviours that increase their risk, such as overeating, heavy drinking, or smoking.”

BBC News released an article: “Childhood abuse ‘quickens ageing.'”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Physical or emotional abuse during childhood could speed up the body’s
ageing process, US research suggests.

A team from Brown University focused on telomeres, the protective caps
on the chromosomes that keep a cell’s DNA stable but shorten with age.

They found the telomeres of 31 people who had reported abuse as children
tended to shorten more rapidly, speeding up cells’ ageing process.

Experts cautioned that the study needed to be replicated on a larger scale.

The study is featured in Biological Psychiatry.

Lead researcher Dr Audrey Tyrka said: “It gives us a hint that early
developmental experiences may have profound effects on biology that can
influence cellular mechanisms at a very basic level.” (more…)

 

The *American Journal of Preventive Medicine* issued the following news
release about a study to appear in the November issue:
Traumatic Childhood Might Take Years Off Adult Life
Many U.S. children face a terrible burden of stressors that can harm the
development of their brains and nervous systems.
These stressors can lead to health problems and diseases throughout
their lives, ultimately causing some to die prematurely, according to
the lead author of a new study.
David W. Brown., D.Sc., an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), and colleagues found that children who
were exposed to six or more “adverse childhood experiences” or ACEs were
at double the risk of premature death compared to children who had not
suffered these experiences.
On average, the children at highest risk eventually died at age 60,
compared to low-risk children who lived to age 79.
The study appears in the November issue of the American Journal of
Preventive Medicine.

 

6 Oct 09 *New York Times* includes an article: “Exploring the
Health Benefits of Pets” by Michal Czerwonka.
Here are some excerpts:
[begin excerpts]
When Chad, a yellow Labrador retriever, moved in with Claire Vaccaro’s
family in Manhattan last spring, he already had an important role. As an
autism service dog, he was joining the family to help protect Ms.
Vaccaro’s 11-year-old son, Milo — especially in public, where he often
had tantrums or tried to run away.
Like many companion animals, whether service dogs or pets, Chad had an
immediate effect — the kind of effect that is noticeable but has yet to
be fully understood through scientific study.
And it went beyond the tether that connects dog and boy in public.
“Within, I would say, a week, I noticed enormous changes,” Ms. Vaccaro
said of Milo, whose autism impairs his ability to communicate and form
social bonds.
“More and more changes have happened over the months as their bond has
grown. He’s much calmer. He can concentrate for much longer periods of
time. It’s almost like a cloud has lifted.”
Dr. Melissa A. Nishawala, clinical director of the autism-spectrum
service at the Child Study Center at New York University, said she saw
“a prominent and noticeable change” in Milo, even though the dog just
sat quietly in the room.
“He started to give me narratives in a way he never did,” she said,
adding that most of them were about the dog.
The changes have been so profound that Ms. Vaccaro and Dr. Nishawala are
starting to talk about weaning Milo from some of his medication.
Anecdotes abound on the benefits of companion animals — whether service
and therapy animals or family pets — on human health.
But in-depth studies have been rare. Now the Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the
National Institutes of Health, is embarking on an effort to study
whether these animals can have a tangible effect on children’s well-being.
In partnership with the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in England
(part of the Mars candy and pet food company), the child health
institute is seeking proposals that “focus on the interaction between
humans and animals.”
In particular, it is looking for studies on how these interactions
affect typical development and health, and whether they have therapeutic
and public-health benefits.
It also invites applications for studies that “address why relationships
with pets are more important to some children than to others” and that
“explore the quality of child-pet relationships, noting variability of
human-animal relationships within a family.”
<snip>
People working with animals expect the research to back up their
observations.
At Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Southern California, for
instance, dozens of volunteers regularly take their dogs to visit
patients. Children being treated for serious illnesses often have the
blues, anxiety or depression.
“The dogs brighten them up,” said Emily Grankowski, who oversees the pet
therapy program at the hospital.
Some patients who have refused to speak will talk to the dogs, she said,
and others who have refused to move often reach for the dogs so they can
pet them.
So the animals become part of the therapeutic program, especially in the
areas involving speech and movement.
“The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the
heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can,” said
Karin Winegar, whose book “Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They
Transform” (Da Capo, 2008) chronicles human-animal interactions.
“We’ve seen this from coast to coast, whether it’s disabled children at
a riding center in California or a nursing home in Minnesota, where a
woman with Alzheimer’s could not recognize her husband but she could
recognize their beloved dog.”
[end excerpts]
The article is online at:
Clipping courtesy of Ken Pope