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 European Society of Cardiology issued the following news release
about a study published today in the *European Heart Journal*:

Don’t worry, be happy!  Positive emotions protect against heart disease

People who are usually happy, enthusiastic and content are less likely
to develop heart disease than those who tend not to be happy, according
to a major new study published today (Thursday 18 February).

The authors believe that the study, published in the Europe’s leading
cardiology journal, the European Heart Journal [1], is the first to show
such an independent relationship between positive emotions and coronary
heart disease.
(more…)

King’s College London issued the following news release:

Depression as deadly as smoking, but anxiety may be good for you

A study by researchers at the University of Bergen, Norway, and the
Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London has found that
depression is as much of a risk factor for mortality as smoking.

Utilising a unique link between a survey of over 60,000 people and a
comprehensive mortality database, the researchers found that over the
four years following the survey, the mortality risk was increased to a
similar extent in people who were depressed as in people who were smokers.

(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.
The *European Journal of Neurology* issued the following news release:
High unexpressed anger in MS patients linked to nervous system damage,
not disease severity
People with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) feel more than twice as much
withheld anger as the general population and this could have an adverse
effect on their relationships and health, according to a study published
in the December issue of the European Journal of Neurology.
Italian researchers assessed 195 patients with MS, using a range of
scales that measure anger, depression and anxiety, and then compared
them with the general population.
They were surprised by the results, which showed that while patients
experienced almost twice the normal level of withheld anger and exerted
low levels of control on their anger, their expressed anger levels were
similar to the general population.
This, together with the fact that the elevated withheld anger levels
were not related to the severity of the patients’ MS, suggests that
these inconsistent changes were caused by nervous system damage, rather
than an emotional reaction to the stress of the disease.
“We believe that the higher levels of withheld anger shown by the study
subjects is due to demyelination, loss of the substance in the white
matter that insulates the nerve endings and helps people receive and
interpret messages from the brain” explains lead researcher Dr Ugo
Nocentini from the IRCCS S Lucia Foundation in Rome.