Traditionally physical trauma was the predominant stress facing humans in their struggle for survival. Famine, cold, infection and heat placed a certain strain on the resources of the body, and over time this lead to physical adaptation. Those unable to adapt to such stress eventually surcumbed to the strain of living, and this was reflected in the low maximum age for humans throughout most of the known historical period.
Improvements in housing and the agricultural revolution reduced the strain of physical burden. Since the war this physical strain has rescinded further. However, other challenges have now replaced the original physical stress that causes widespread disease and low quality of life amongst humans. While it can be argued that we are well adapted to deal with physical stress, the mental stress that has replaced it is perhaps less easy to deal with.
Mental Stress: The Disease Link
Increasingly, the mental stress of modern living is being linked with disease. Mental stress is difficult to deal with because often it does not have a known cause, is difficult to detect, and many cope by simply trying to ignore it. It is unclear how mental stress causes disease, but it likely relates to the release of similar hormones that are present during periods of physical stress. In particular mental stress is associated with increased release of adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline and cortisol are released as part of the adaptation to stress. They allow the body to adapt to small deviations from the normal physiological and mental limits of the individual. However, if an outside stress is chronic, then cortisol and adrenaline remain elevated indefinitely, and this may initiate the disease process. In this way inflammatory pathways become activated, which increases oxidative stress and causes immune suppression.
Cancer And Stress
Oxidative stress and immune dysfunction are a recipe for cancer. Oxidative stress can increase damage to genetic material including DNA and this can increase the risk of initiating cancer. Because the immune system is required to eliminate cancer cells before they establish, immune dysfunction can increase the risk of developing cancer. Poor diet exacerbates the risk of mental stress induced cancer because it creates a concomitant physical stress.
Avoid Stress, Avoid Cancer
It is no secret that the key to a long life is to avoid stress. Both physical and mental stress can cause disease and strategies to avoid or deal with such challenges must therefore be practiced if health is to be maintained. Good diet greatly reduced the burden of stress because it provides the body with the nutrients needed to help it adapt to stressful situation. Relaxation techniques such as meditation are also proven to limit disease and produce healing effects.