"Although we assume that DNA is a locked storehouse of genetic information, it's active twin, RNA, responds to day-to-day existence. Medical students at exam time show a decreased output of interleukin 2, a critical chemical in the immune response that fights cancer. The production of interleukin 2 is controlled by messenger RNA, which means that the student's anxiety over passing his exams is speaking directly to his genes."
It also turns out that death rates from cancer and heart disease are provably higher among people in psychological distress, and lower among people who have a strong sense of purpose and well-being. Behind the cut below is a description of one of the most publicized medical studies on this. It was conducted by a Standford psychiatrist who ran the study hoping to prove that the mental state of patients did not influence whether they survived cancer (but he got results he did not expect).
One of the most publicized medical studies in recent years was conducted by Stanford psychiatrist David Spiegel, who set out to prove that the mental state of patients did not influence whether they survived cancer. He felt, as many clinicians do, that assigning importance to a patient's beliefs and attitudes would do more harm than good, because the thought "I caused my cancer" would cause feelings of guilt and self-recrimination. Spiegel took eighty-six women with advanced breast cancer (their disease was basically beyond help with conventional treatment) and gave half of them weekly psychotherapy combined with lessons in self-hypnosis. By any measure this represents minimal intervention - what could a woman do in an hour's therapy per week, time she must share with several other patients, to combat a disease that is inevitably fatal in advanced stages? The answer seemed obvious.
However, after following his subjects for ten yes, Spiegel was stunned to find that the group receiving therapy survived on average twice as long as the group that received none. It would doubly telling that only three women were alive by this late date, all of them from the therapy group. This study is startling because the researcher expected no effect at all. But a decade of similar findings came in from other researchers. A meticulous 1987 study from Yale reported by M. R. Henses, found that breast cancer spread fastest among women who had repressed personalities, felt hopefulness, and were unable to express anger, fear, and other negative emotions. Similar finding have emerged for rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, intractable pain, and other disorders.
Given this information, take a moment to think about the level of stress in your life verses your sense of well being and sense of purpose. Please feel free to post comments on the studies and/or your relections of stress levels and sense of purpose in your life and whether or not those have effected your health.