Chronic stress, a biological response to emotional pressure and demanding situations over a prolonged period of time, can bring about negative effects on your physical, mental and emotional well-being.These negative health effects could include a higher risk of heart disease, increased gut problems and even accelerated cognitive impairment. Now, recent research suggests that chronic stress could trigger a key mechanism that fuels the growth of cancer stem cells that create tumors.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that a stress hormone called epinephrine sets off an array of biochemical reactions that favor the growth and spread of breast cancer. This study is considered the first to demonstrate the effects of chronic stress on cancer stem cell growth, something previous research never specifically focused on.
“You can kill all the cells you want in a tumor, but if the stem cells, or mother cells, are not killed, then the tumor is going to grow and metastasize. This is one of the first studies to link chronic stress specifically with the growth of breast cancer stem cells,” said Keith Kelley, one of the authors of the study.
Keep your stress levels low to prevent cancer
To observe how stress would impact cancer cell growth, an international team of researchers induced chronic stress in mice by placing them in tiny enclosures that significantly restricted their movement. These mice were stressed for about a week before being split into two groups, with one group designated as the control. The mice in the control group were moved to much larger and more comfortable cages in order to discontinue the stress. The mice in the other group, on the other hand, were left by the researchers in their small enclosures for another 30 days.
Following the initial investigation, the researchers found that the mice experiencing chronic stress exhibited behavioral changes that were indicative of depression and anxiety. These mice also had much larger cancer tumors than their peers in the control group. In addition, these tumors were growing at a faster rate and were found in greater numbers.
Having demonstrated the associations between chronic stress, enhanced breast cancer stem cell growth and chronic stress, the research team looked into how various physiological factors changed in the chronic stress-induced mice. After a thorough analysis, the researchers closed in on epinephrine as the primary suspect.
They observed that the stressed mice had significantly higher levels of this hormone that the mice in the control group. Also, the stressed mice that received treatments that inhibited ADRB2 — an epinephrine receptor — had smaller cancer tumors and lesser cancer stem cells.
Next, the researchers aimed to evaluate the significance of their findings. To do so, they studied the blood epinephrine levels of 83 women diagnosed with breast cancer. They found that women with higher levels of this stress hormone also had excess lactate dehydrogenase in cancer tumors from breast cancer biopsy samples. In addition, people who had higher levels of epinephrine also had lower overall survival and disease-free survival compared to those with much lower levels of the stress hormone.
The researchers then conducted a final test to see if they could devise a strategy to block the negative effects of epinephrine on the body. In laboratory tests on breast cancer cell lines, they found that the most promising substance happens to be vitamin C, which blocked lactate dehydrogenase production. In addition, the researchers observed that cancer tumors shrank after injecting vitamin C into stressed mice. (Related: Vitamin C helps eliminate chronic disease.)
“Taken together, these findings show that vitamin C might be a novel and effective therapeutic agent for targeting cancer in patients undergoing chronic stress,” Liu says.
Find out more about the wonderful health benefits of vitamin C at Nutrients.news.
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