When it comes to cancer, there are obvious mind-body links. Stress, pessimism and other emotional factors have been proven to play a role, increasing the risk of cancer, metastasis and early mortality. This is a double-whammy for cancer patients, who must overcome anxiety from the moment they are diagnosed. In particular, stress has been shown to depress the immune system, increase inflammation and affect our bodies on the molecular level, even damaging DNA.
In a recent lecture in Phoenix, AZ at the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) Fellowship, integrative medicine pioneer Isaac Eliaz, M.D., L.Ac. discussed how negative emotions hinder immune response and fuel cancer formation and metastasis. He followed by sharing research on mind-body therapies such as meditation, yoga and Qigong which work to counteract the negative effects of stress and boost health in numerous ways. Highlighting an array of published studies, Dr. Eliaz showed how chronic stress can be deadly to lymphocytes and DNA integrity, and conversely, how mind body therapies and emotional support can ramp up immunity and provide numerous health benefits.
"The contrasts are amazing," says Dr. Eliaz. "Chronic stress significantly reduces the immune response, while something as simple as family support or mindful meditation can boost it just as dramatically."
The negative effects of stress have been studied in a variety of cancers including breast, ovarian, and digestive tract. In one study cited by Dr. Eliaz, breast cancer risk doubled for women after a divorce, separation or the death of their spouse.
In addition to reducing our body's resistance to cancer, stress, depression and isolation also increase metastasis and tumor vascularization.
While these facts may be daunting, there are solutions that can make a substantial difference.
In his presentation, Dr. Eliaz discussed a variety of mind-body techniques, including meditation, yoga and Qigong -- an ancient Chinese system of mindful exercises -- that can calm stress and restore the body's healthy balance. In particular, meditation reduces cortisol levels, pro-inflammatory cytokines, systolic blood pressure, anxiety, depression and stress. It also has been proven to increase multiple areas of cognitive function, including information processing, memory and decision making.
"Study after study shows that reducing stress, and its associated negative effects, boosts the immune system and enhances brain function," says Dr. Eliaz.
Yoga fares equally well, helping post-operative breast cancer patients by accelerating healing, reducing hospital stays and enhancing quality of life. The practice has also been shown to reduce the nausea associated with chemotherapy. Qigong has similar benefits.
As a meditation practitioner with over 25 years of experience, Dr. Eliaz has cultivated a deep understanding of the philosophies and application of mindful meditation for healing and personal growth. To integrate practice with theory and research, Dr. Eliaz shared important meditation exercises and take home tools for beginners, to enable participants to experience the benefits of meditation first hand.
"Through all this research, we see one common thread—the calming, healing power of our brains when harnessed through meditation and mind body practice," says Dr. Eliaz. "Simple acts, like breathing mindfully, can have a dramatic effect on all aspects of our being, right down to the molecular level. When practiced regularly, mind body therapies can be powerful tools to help us maintain optimal mental, emotional and physical health."