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Study Finds Chronic Stress May Increase Risk Of Cancer Mortality

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Image by Marko Milovanović / Stocksy
October 27, 2022

It's no secret that too much stress has a negative impact on our mood and energy levels—but the effects don't stop there. According to new research published in the journal SSM-Population Health1, chronic stress takes such a toll on our bodies that it can increase one's risk of cancer mortality. Here's what to know.

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Studying chronic stress & its effects.

For this study, researchers looked at the impact of "allostatic load" over time, aka the cumulative effects that chronic stress has on the body. Namely, they were looking for any connections between allostatic load and the risk of dying from cancer.

To do this, the team performed an analysis of existing data on over 41,000 people who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between the years 1988 and 2019. The survey included information on people's blood pressure, inflammatory markers, and other health metrics that indicated their overall allostatic load.

Then, the researchers looked at the National Death Index in order to figure out who among those surveyed had died from cancer.

What they found.

Even after accounting for variables such as socioeconomic status, race, and age, the researchers found that having a high allostatic load significantly increased participants' likelihood of dying from cancer. Specifically, they were 2.4 times more likely to die from cancer than those with low allostatic loads.

Beyond that, it also seems that allostatic load jumps as we age, with this team's previous research showing that adults 40 and up had a 100% increased risk of high allostatic load compared to adults under 30. But in this research, when accounting for age, those with a high allostatic load still had a 28% increased risk of dying from cancer.

"That means that if you were to have two people of the same age, if one of those people had high allostatic load, they are 28% more likely to die from cancer," study co-author Justin Xavier Moore, Ph.D., MPH, explained in a news release.

Other factors like race and socioeconomic status came into play in the findings as well, with Moore noting this is due to the systemic stress factors that disproportionately affect people of color and less wealthy populations.

"But even if you take race out," he says, "the bottom line is that the environments in which we live, work, and play, where you are rewarded for working more and sometimes seen as weak for taking time for yourself, is conducive to high stress, which in turn may lead to cancer development and increased morbidity and mortality."

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The takeaway.

If there's one thing to take from this, it's that the stress that runs rampant in our society should be taken seriously. We need to move toward a culture that allows for more rest and recovery. In the meantime, we could all benefit from adding more stress-busting tools to our life, particularly when we're going through a difficult time. Whether it's talking with a mental health professional, leaning on exercises like yoga, or taking up meditation, your health will benefit from it—in both the short and long term.

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