Stress and Your Immune System21 Jun 2018
By Brian Clement, PhD, LN
Body/mind researchers have documented direct links between stress—which suppresses immune activity—and the development of cancer and heart disease. Emotional stress creates hormone imbalances and stimulates the production of abnormal cells. Our immune system normally sweeps away cancer cells as if they were dust or dirt, but like a housecleaner who becomes fatigued from stress and overwhelmed by the resulting accumulation of dust, our immune cells can become stressed and overworked until they stop cleaning properly.
Studies conducted at the Institute of HeartMath, a California research center devoted to the study of heart physiology and emotions, detail how stressful feelings can increase our risk of developing heart disease. Negative emotions set up a chain reaction within the body that causes stress hormone levels to increase, blood vessels to constrict, blood pressure to rise, and the immune system to become fatigued. Sustained stress burdens the heart by causing erratic heart rhythms.
Conversely, research from the Institute of HeartMath shows that when we experience the positive emotions of love, compassion, and appreciation, our heart produces a smooth, rhythmic pattern, which enhances cardiovascular efficiency. If we can summon a past memory that evokes warm emotional feelings, we strengthen our heart and immune system. “It’s important to emphasize,” says Rollin McCraty, director of research at HeartMath, “that it is not a mental image of a memory that creates a shift in our heart rhythm, but rather the emotions associated with the memory. We have seen significant results when someone focuses on a positive feeling.”
Lab work done by Candace B. Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, has demonstrated that peptide molecules in the body stimulated by strong emotions can direct the traffic of tumor cells. Her data shows that tumor progression, or regression, is affected by people’s attitudes about life.
Two pioneers in putting this body/mind connection into practice were oncologist O. Carl Simonton and psychologist Stephanie Simonton, who developed a visualization program for cancer patients after Carl Simonton observed that the people who experienced spontaneous remission from cancer were often those who declared, “I always imagined myself as well.” The Simontons coached 159 cancer patients, who had been given less than a year to live, on using a visualization technique that consisted of seeing the white blood cells of their immune system swarm over the cancerous cells and destroy them.
Some people were able to master this concentration on visual images, while others were not so committed or successful. Yet, after two years, nearly half of the cancer “incurables” were still alive, and 22 percent of them no longer showed any signs of cancer in their bodies.