Many believe that stress increases a woman's risk for breast cancer, but in the past this theory has been hard to prove. But just recently scientists in Canada have discovered an important clue for how stress can cause and promote breast cancer.
The part of our nervous system involved in the "fight or flight" response to stress is called the sympathetic nervous system and its nerves release chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine - commonly known as adrenaline - and neuropeptide Y, NPY. These neurotransmitters cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, etc. - all the things your bodies need to instantly prepare for a fight or a flight.
Interestingly, the breast contains a very rich supply of sympathetic nerves and, thus, is part of the blast zone exposed to their firestorm during times of stress. Obviously, chronic stress produces chronically elevated levels of norepinephrine and NPY in breast tissue, so what collateral damage do these neurotransmitters inflict on this innocent bystander?
Scientists in Canada first discovered that breast cancer cells do, in fact, express receptors for norepinephrine and NPY. They then carried out a series of laboratory experiments in which they exposed breast cancer cells to norepinephrine and NPY. What they discovered should not come as a surprise to anyone with a healthy respect for woman's intuition: norepinephrine and NPY significantly increase the growth of breast cancer cells and increase their ability to spread to other parts of the body.
Yoga, anyone? Here's a good video introduction to beginner yoga.
Walking is also a great stress reliever and mind cleanser. It lowers your risk for breast cancer by 30-50% if you walk briskly for 30 minutes at least 4 times per week. And, for women who already have breast cancer, regular exercise increases overall survival by 50% - a benefit as good as the best drugs used to treat the disease, and all at a cost of a pair of tennis shoes.
Meditation also helps to lower stress and balance the body. Here's a widely viewed video about mindfulness meditation that received many good reviews.
Philip J. Medeiros, Baraa K. Al-Khazraji, Nicole M. Novielli, Lynne M. Postovit, Ann F. Chambers, Dwayne N. Jackson.Neuropeptide Y stimulates proliferation and migration in the 4T1 breast cancer cell line. International Journal of Cancer, 2011; DOI: 10.1002/ijc.26350