Tag Archive for: stress hormones

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression on physical health? Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Broderick Rodell discuss how personal experiences and environmental conditions can impact patient health and a prostate cancer study that examined prostate cancer cells in Black patients.

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Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We know that stress and anxiety and depression and all of those things impact your physical health, and as I said earlier, I think traditionally, there’s been this ridiculous disconnection between our minds and our bodies, and we know a lot more now, in fact, there’s a study, there are many studies, but there’s a study specifically looking at prostate cancer by Dr. Burnham, a researcher. And what they found in this study is that they looked at prostate cancer cells from African American patients and white patients, and when they treated these cells with stress hormones, they saw that the Black patient’s prostate cells would begin to up-regulate the genes and the proteins that are known to make that cancer more resistant to therapy. And so it starts to look at the role of stress and stress hormones, and we know that there’s increased stress among minority communities, among… sorry, urban communities, those who are otherwise disenfranchised, so from your perspective, can you just share a little bit about the connection between stress and physical illness and maybe how you approach that in the work that you do?

Dr. Broderick Rodell:

So, these various patterns we don’t operate, we have a framework that we all operate from, and it’s beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. And so our subconscious mind operating system is there, but that operating system comes from our conditioning, we’re conditioned by our families, by our local communities, our societies. And so, the various structures that are in place are facilitating our conditioning and from our conditioning we…that our conditioning creates our perspective, the framework that we operate from, that’s determine…that’s going to determine how we relate to our experiences. And how we relate to our experiences can be gracefully, or it can be stressfully, just to put it in those two different terms, and so that stress that is created based on how we’re relating to our experiences has a historical perspective, and so we have to address those issues. We can address our familial issues that has a historical relationship and say that maybe the relationship that my mother and father or grandparents had towards their own health is not necessarily to be the most optimal way to do that. And they may have had those ways of relating to their experience, based on their conditioning, based on the suffering that they’ve experienced, environmental conditions that were conducive for that mental framework that they’re operating from, and so we have to work towards transforming that, and again, the place where we have the most power in ourselves, “How can I change myself?”

I have to advocate for myself, and so how do we increase that by increasing our education and learning about ourselves and learning about our mental models that we’re using to relate to our experiences and transforming those mental models to reduce unnecessary stress and tension? Because when we’re under unnecessary stress, we have our epinephrine cortisol, these hormones that are increasing in our body, that’s going to suppress our immune system. It’s going to cause damage in our blood vessels, organs are not going to function optimally, and I think that we’re going to keep finding out more and more about this. I was interested, as you hear that about the prostate, prostate cells in African Americans, why would that be the case? You’ve got generations of hyper-vigilance for historical reasons, cultural reasons, or social reasons. Then, of course, that’s going to get passed on from generation to generation, a sense of hyper-vigilance, a sense excessive amount of stress hormones was floating around in the bloodstream, and it’s going to have a significant influence on how the body is capable of dealing with various illnesses – be it cancer, be it cardiovascular disease, or any other disease that’s associated with, or probably all disease that’s associated with stress these days.

In particular, with cancer it’s very interesting, that relationship and why are these cells dividing and rapidly producing in the way that they’re doing, and how is that related to stress? I don’t think it’s…no, simple relationship there. You can’t just say, “Stress causes cancer.” I’m not saying that at all. But there is a correlation, there is a relationship, and if the thing that we can tackle, we can’t change our genes, but what we can do is change our relationship to our experience. Transform that to reduce the amount of stress or suffering and maximize well-being, and that’s the kind of work that I try to focus my attention on and what comes out of that is, “Okay, I need to work on how I relate to my experience,’ but also “How do I create favorable conditions in my internal system, in my body through the food, in through the exercise that I do, through the literature and I expose myself to, etcetera?”

How Does Stress Correlate With Your Prostate Cancer Diagnosis?

How Does Stress Correlate With Your Prostate Cancer Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How do stress and cortisol levels contribute to prostate cancer incidence and aggressiveness in Black men? Dr. Leanne Burnham explains her research studies where they looked specifically at the role of stress in prostate cancer, tumor aggressiveness, and Black men — and also shares research about cortisol levels in African American children.

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Dr. Leanne Burnham

I have a few publications that look at the role of stress and prostate cancer, tumor aggressiveness, and Black men. And so, I looked at Black men specifically, because I have wondered if Black men who maybe were exposed to more stressors in their lifetime if that had any correlation to Black men getting prostate cancer earlier in their life and getting a more aggressive disease. And so, there were very realistic ways that we were able to look at that in the lab and then also in collaboration with public health colleagues that I have. Because what we know there are studies that show that African American children experience more stress, and their cortisol levels in their bodies are effective much earlier than any other race, and their studies that show the distress begins in the daycare setting based on discrimination that they may have from the adults that are taking care of them in that setting. And so, imagine cumulatively how that looks, and so we have ways that there are validated scales to assess levels of stressors that people have been exposed to. So that could be…what are your finances looking like? Have you been affected by incarceration yourself or anyone in your family? Have you experienced the death of a loved one? Has your home been broken into recently?

There are all kinds of, there are hundreds and hundreds of questions, and we can get to the root of how much stress has somebody been exposed to. And we know that unfortunately, African Americans in this country are exposed to more of these stressors than other demographics, and so what we did was look at the elevated stress, we could look at the cellular level and see, now if we’re growing prostate cancer cells, so that’s what I did. I was growing cancer cells in the lab that were from Black patients and white patients, and I would expose them to stress hormones in the flask, or maybe you like to think of it as kind of like a petri dish, but in the flask where the prostate cancer cells were growing. I would treat them with stress hormones, and then I would look and see do the cells grow differently, do they express genes and proteins differently based on race? And what I found very surprisingly, disturbingly, whichever adverb you want to use, that the African American prostate cancer cells, when they were exposed to stress hormones, the tumor cells became more aggressive, and they up-regulated genes that we know prime a patient to resist therapy.

So, the genes that were up-regulated in these prostate cancer cells are genes that we know, let’s say if a patient were to get chemotherapy, that patient would be more likely to fail that chemotherapy early, which is a terminology we call chemo resistance. And so those are studies right now that have just sort of, they’re newer to the forefront looking at stress and tumor aggressiveness. But there are studies going on nationwide right now involving thousands of African American men participants, where we are looking at the role of stress and what that does in terms of prostate cancer, aggressiveness in Black men specifically, and seeing what we can do to address it. But first we have to acknowledge that the problem is even there, a lot of people don’t think the problem is there, but we are scientists, we think the problem is there. So, we have to get the data to show the public that the problem is there, and then we need to really address the systemic racism that leads to this elevated and chronic stress that other demographics don’t have to deal with, because it’s literally leading to increased disease and increased health disparities. And if that’s something that we can change at some very basic levels, then that will improve health overall.