The cancer-stress connection

It’s no secret that stress can be deadly.

It weakens your immune system… It increases your risk of heart disease…

But new research shows that stress can be particularly deadly for people with cancer. A recent study in Australia found that stress allows cancer to spread six times faster.

Aussie researchers tracked breast cancer cells in mice. They tagged the cancer cells with a fluorescent marker. Then they used state-of-the-art imaging to see tumor cells that had spread into the lymph system.1

What they saw was remarkable…

The images showed that stress increases the number and size of lymph vessels in and around tumors. It also increases the rate fluid flows through the lymph system.

In other words, chronic stress leads to “cancer highways” in the lymph system. These highways allow cancer cells to spread six times faster than the usual rate.

Cancer is stressful… there’s no doubt about that. But this new research shows why it’s so important to manage your stress levels if you have cancer.

And even if you don’t have cancer, you still need to manage your stress levels. In fact, doing so is one of your best defenses against getting cancer in the first place.

Studies in animals have shown that when the stress response system kicks in, the hormones released into the bloodstream can alter important cell processes that help protect against the formation of cancer.

But mainstream medicine is no help when it comes to lowering stress in cancer patients (or anyone else!). In fact, their cancer treatments — like chemo, surgery and radiation — increase stress levels.

And they use beta-blockers to try to suppress the effects of stress in these patients. But those drugs have terrible side effects like fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, depression and loss of libido. Over time they decrease your heart’s power to pump.

The answer isn’t squashing your body’s natural stress responses. The answer is teaching your body to adapt to stress in a natural and healthy way.

And to do that, I use a special class of herbs called adaptogens.

3 natural stress-busters

1. Holy Basil.I call this plant a “super-adaptogen.” It reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline even when the stresses around you seem overwhelming.

In one study people with anxiety disorder took 500 mg of holy basil extract twice a day. In just 60 days they had less stress and a better ability to adapt to changes.2 Other studies show it can reduce inflammation and act as a powerful protector against cancer.3

Look for holy basil on the Internet or in your health food store. Use the ground leaves as an herb in soups or fish dishes. You can also take it as a supplement. I recommend 150 mg three times a day with meals.

2. Panax Ginseng. Thisis one of the most ancient herbal medicines. Studies show it is particularly effective against chronic stress — the kind of relentless pressure that’s so common in our modern society. It also boosts the immune system to fight cancer by stimulating natural killer cells, T-cells and B-cells.4

You can buy panax ginseng supplements on the Internet or at most health food stores. There are 11 different species so don’t confuse panax ginseng with other forms, like American or Siberian ginseng. Make sure it says panax or Asian ginseng. Take 200 mg to 500 mg a day.

3. Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea). This herb has been used as a powerful adaptogen for thousands of years. In a large trial in Sweden, people with stress-related fatigue took rhodiola or a placebo. The rhodiola group had significantly lower cortisol responses to chronic stress. They also had less burnout.5

You can find rhodiola capsules in most health food stores and online. But make sure they contain at least 0.8% to 1% salidroside and 2% to 3% rosavin. Those are the active compounds.

For the first week, take 100 mg once a day. The second week, you can up the daily dosage to 200 mg. Over the next couple of weeks, increase by 100 mg. But don’t go over 400 mg a day.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS

1. Le, C. P. et al. “Chronic stress in mice remodels lymph vasculature to promote tumour cell dissemination.” Nat. Commun. 7:10634 doi: 10.1038/ncomms10634 (2016).
2. Bhattacharyya D, Sur TK, Jana U, et al. “Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders.” Nepal Med Coll J. 2008;10(3):176-179.
3. Baliga MS, Jimmy R, et al. “Ocimum sanctum L (Holy Basil or Tulsi) and its phytochemicals in the prevention and treatment of cancer.” Nutr Cancer. 2013;65 Suppl 1:26-35.
4. Takei, M.; Tachikawa, E.; Umeyama, A. “Dendritic cells promoted by ginseng saponins drive a potent Th1 polarization.” Biomark. Insights 2008, 3, 269–286.
5. Olsson EM et al. “A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue.” Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12.