On this page you will find a number of research articles that we think you might find useful.
1. How do thoughts and emotions impact health
Freely experienced and expressed emotions “tend to flow fluidly”, while repressed emotions (especially fearful or negative ones) can deplete mental energy and lead to health problems. Recognition and awareness of our emotions is thus crucial for both mental and physical health. As we turn our attention to our emotions and as our awareness increases, it becomes easier to recognize what we are thinking and how we are feeling. When it comes to the link between emotions and health, it is shown that chronic stress drives hormone imbalance, has a damaging impact on our immune system, and can shorten our telomeres – the “end caps” of our DNA strands, which leads to a decrease of our lifespan.
Anger (hostility) leads to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and infection.
Scientist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has shown that positive emotions broaden our perspective of the world (driving creativity, and broadening our perception of options), and they accumulate over time, leading to lasting emotional resilience and wellbeing. Dr. Fredrickson has shown that positive emotions and thoughts drive faster recovery from cardiovascular stress, better sleep, fewer infections, etc. Important finding is that we can develop these positive attitudes ourselves with practice.
2. Stress hormones could undermine breast cancer therapy
New scientific research that focused on conventional therapy resistance in specific types of breast cancer (estrogen receptor-α positive breast cancer) shows that stress hormones add to cancer growth and its therapy resistance.
Levels of stress hormones are usually increased in breast cancer patients due to reaction to cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment, and now we received confirmation about one of the mechanisms of stress influence on cancer – through effect of steroid and glucocorticoid hormones. Furthermore, steroids are sometimes used in cancer treatment to treat nausea and other cancer-treatment related symptoms, as well as some chronic diseases, including many chronic rheumatoid or autoimmune diseases which can co-occur with breast cancer.
Read more here (June 2015)
3. Stress and breast cancer
Sweden medical research team discovered that stress doubles the breast cancer. Swedish doctors followed the group of 1500 healthy women for 24 years (starting in 1968/69), performing in total four checkups on each woman across the period. Apart from physical health, women were questioned about their stress level. Those who had reported stress for a month or longer during the five year period before the start of the study had double the risk of breast cancer. Among those women who reported stress over 5% developed cancer, while among those who did not report stress this number was 2.5%. This study showed statistically significant influence of feelings on illness, and may help explain growing incidence of breast cancer.
4. Mixtures of commonly used chemicals may have cumulative effect and trigger cancer
A team of over 150 scientists from 28 countries studied the link between mixtures of commonly used chemicals and the development of cancer. The study examined 85 chemicals which are not considered carcinogenic to humans, especially in commonly used low dosages. Cancer Biologist Dr Hemad Yasaei from Brunel University in London said: “This research backs up the idea that chemicals not considered harmful by themselves are combining and accumulating in our bodies to trigger cancer and might lie behind the global cancer epidemic we are witnessing”. The team is calling for the urgent studying of the effects of mixtures of low dosage chemicals in the food, air and water, estimating that the cumulative effect of chemicals could be responsible for 20% of cancers.
Read more here (June 2015)
5. Epigenetic changes can drive cancer
Epigenetic processes don’t change the DNA sequence but how our genes are expressed. DNA methylation (addition of a methyl group or molecule to a gene) is an epigenetic mechanism that can activate or deactivate genes, but scientists so far lacked the evidence if DNA methylation can drive development of cancer. Scientists knew that epigenetic changes are linked with cancer, but they didn’t know whether these were a cause or consequence of cancer. Team of researchers led by Dr. Shen focused on gene p16 that normally functions to prevent cancer, but is commonly found to be methylated in different types of human cancers. They developed an approach to engineer DNA methylation of the p16 in mice. As the mice reached adulthood, p16 methylation was gradually increasing, which led to a higher occurrence of spontaneous cancers, and higher death rate. “This is not only the first in vivo evidence that epigenetic alteration alone can cause cancer,” said Dr. Shen. “This also has profound implications for future studies, because epigenetic changes are potentially reversible.”
Read more here (July 2014)
6. Epigenetics – our genes can be changed by habits, lifestyle, even finances
Epigenetics (literally “upon genetics”) is a relatively new field of science that started developing in mid Nineties.
Back in the Fifties scientists noticed millions of markers on top of DNA, but it is not until a few decades ago that they could understand what these markers do. The most important of these markers are methyl groups, carbon-hydrogen molecules which bind to a gene in the process that is called DNA methylation. Methylation is essential for normal development. It is responsible for activation or deactivation of specific genes, enabling the cells to know what they are supposed to do or grow into (i.e. to form an eyeball or a toenail).
Apart from that, DNA rests upon so called “histones”, which control how tightly the DNA is packed and therefore how “readable” the information in DNA are. Methylation and histones are main epigenetic mechanisms which control expression of genes.
They are however not fixed; rather they can be influenced by our eating habits, our mood and stress level, our sleep, environmental factors, exposure to toxins, etc.
Scientists, for example, discovered that a bad diet can affect methylation, enabling abnormal cell growth, and causing cancer. Current scientific research also discovered that epigenetic mechanisms might be altering our genetic legacy or the way genes we passed to our offspring are expressed. Scientists used to think that the DNA is being reprogramed before it was passed onto our children. New research, however, found that about one to two per cent of our epigenetic markers are being passed on. At the University of Texas, for example, a study of rats suggested that obesity and autism rates in humans could be an effect of “the chemical revolution of the Forties”, when our grandparents’ were exposed to new detergents, plastics, and fertilizers.
Read more here (October 2013)
7. Acute traumatic event and health problems
Team of researchers showed that single or acute traumatic event can lead to health problems and disorders similar to chronic stress. Exposure to traumatic event increases risk for development of medical disease exponentially. Scientists show broad effects to many organ systems and functional processes: gastrointestinal functioning, cardiovascular, immune, reproductive and musculoskeletal system, endocrine functioning, nervous system and brain structure and functioning.
Psychological consequences are equally devastating; furthermore they tend to be long term, treatment resistant and they additionally increase the risk and exacerbation of physical illness. Researchers emphasize the importance of focusing health professionals’ attention on the antecedent events: overwhelming stressful experiences. Illness treatment should include resolving of the emotional impact of the trauma as the very important aspect, maybe even a “first line of defense” in chronic illness. Illness prevention and treatment should also include comprehensive communication of the impact of stress to patients and raising awareness of the value of stress reduction for health.
Read more here (November/December 2011)
8. Anxiety and health
Anxiety is a reaction to stress that manifests itself on both psychological and physical level. Amygdala – part of the brain key for the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions is thought to be in charge of our feeling of anxiety. Signals from amygdala activate sympathetic nervous system preparing us for energetic physical activity. This is done by influencing increase in the heart rate, frequency of breathing, muscle tension, and sending blood flow from our abdominal organs to the brain. Such “fight or flight” mechanism in the short term enables us to deal with the situation to which we reacted with anxiety. But in the long run this can have effects such as gastrointestinal disorders, increased blood pressure, heart disease and coronary events in people who already have heart disease, adverse effects on chronic respiratory disorders such as asthma. It has been shown that both men and women with established heart disease and anxiety disorder are twice as likely to have a heart attack, compared to those with no history of anxiety disorders.
Read more here (July 2008)
9. How emotions affect immune system
Although it has been known for a long time that emotions influence physical health, scientists were faced with the problem to explain how these processes work at the level of the nervous and immune systems.
In recent years researchers are making groundbreaking discoveries in the field of psychoneuroimmunology. Steve Cole, Ph.D., from the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzes genome transcription to observe wide-ranging patterns of gene expression in cells. This has led to a series of discoveries about the link between negative emotions (such as stress or loneliness) and the behavior of the immune system, driven by altering gene expression.
In one study, his team identified 209 genes that were expressed differently in people who were lonely and people who were not lonely, including genes that govern immune activation and blood cell function. It was uncovered that certain genes that reduce inflammation were less effective in lonely people, while pro-inflammatory genes were overexpressed. This is the first indication that transcription of genome changes under the influence of socio-emotional factors, such as chronical feeling of loneliness. Numerous studies over the last three decades have also showed existence of physical link between brain and immune system. For example, scientists discovered a connection between parts of the nervous system and organs such as thymus and bone marrow, which participate in our immune response to a disease. It was also shown that immune cells have specific receptors for neurotransmitters on their surface.
10. Psychological aid for cancer patients
Most common mood disorders linked with cancer are depression and anxiety. According to a 2012 study of more than 10,000 patients diagnosed with cancer, 42 percent showed clinical and subclinical levels of anxiety, while 30 percent showed clinical or subclinical levels of depression. From 2015 cancer centers in United States are required to implement a distress screening program, which is “the first time that psychosocial care has been a required component of cancer care in this country” according to the Northwestern University psychologist Lynne Wagner, PhD. Mandated distress screening in USA cancer centers is a result of an increasing number of studies which are showing that mood disorders have the potential to affect cancer outcomes. “It is normal to get depressed when [you are] diagnosed with cancer, but it is important not to stay there because chronic depression has the strength to impact your physiological symptoms. Our goal is to encourage people to get help if they are depressed.” says Giese-Davis, PhD, of the University of Calgary in Canada. These new mandates envisage that hospitals that do not have the resources to hire more psychologists may refer patients to mental health practitioners outside the hospitals.
Read more here (November 2014)
11. Positive emotions in treatment of heart diseases
Research shows that 90 percent of heart attacks can be attributed to nine factors of similar importance.
These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, etc. Number nine is stress, or as per Michael Miller, MD, preventive cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine – the inability to deal effectively with stress. Dr. Miller’s regular practice includes physical examinations, lab work, and inquiry about the patient’s emotional health. As part of the standard treatment, Dr. Miller included recommendations about emotional health and behavioral changes to help his patients offset the effects of negative emotions like anxiety, anger and depression on heart health. Dr. Miller calls this a Positive Emotion Prescription.
Read more here (October 2014)
12. How positive emotions improve our health
New study shows psychological mechanism which underlies positive emotions effect on health. In the study, published online in Psychological Science, researchers divided 65 people into two groups. One group received training and instructions how to practice ancient loving-kindness meditation, which “teaches individuals how to cultivate feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward themselves and others.” The other group attended one hour-long classes of meditation per week, for six weeks. They were also instructed to have daily meditation sessions at home. The researchers assessed heart health of the participants before the training started and after it ended, by measuring their “vagal tone” – the activity of vagus nerve which regulates the heart rate. They also tracked the amount of time participants meditated, emotions they’d felt most strongly, and the quality of their social interactions. People in the loving-kindness meditation group showed greater increases in positive emotions like amusement, awe, and gratitude. They were also more likely to feel more socially connected and closer with people around them, and they showed improvements in vagal tone. This study not only confirms that positive emotions can improve physical health, it is “the first to show how social connectedness provides the important link between positive emotions and better health”.
Read more here (June 2013)
13. Link between sleep and cancer
New studies have identified a relationship between lack of sleep and some of the most often types of cancers in the United States: breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. Studies show that poor sleep is mainly caused by stress, illness, aging or drug treatment. Quality and proper length of sleep (7-8 hours a night), is however found to be critical to healing, adequate functioning of immune system and mental health. Researching what happens in the sleep-deprived body at a biological level to lead to cancer, scientists found that lack of sleep increases inflammation and disrupts immune function. In addition, poor sleep has adverse effects on production of hormone melatonin, which is produced during sleep. Melatonin may have antioxidant properties important in prevention of cellular damage. Studies also suggest that chronical lack of sleep may lead to development of more aggressive cancers.
14. Sleep and disease risk
Poor sleep or lack of sleep may have deep consequences for our health, especially in the long term. Lack of sleep increases risk of chronic disease, and is linked to a shortened life expectancy.
Data from cross-sectional epidemiological studies show that five hours or less of sleep per night increases mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent. Sleep deprivation studies have shown connection between sleep deprivation and increased stress, increased blood pressure, impaired control of blood glucose, and increased inflammation. Insufficient sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by slowing down glucose processing. Studies have also shown that a single night of inadequate sleep in people with existing hypertension can cause elevated blood pressure in the following day, which may begin to explain the link between poor sleep and cardiovascular disease and stroke. Lack of sleep also has adverse effects on our immune response. Immune system produces substances which not just fight infection, but also cause fatigue. As per one theory this is an evolutionary mechanism of our immune system, because inactivity and sleep enable us to better fight the infection.
Read more here (December 2007)