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The underlying link between stress and cancer

February 8, 2014 | Author : Dr. Dhanya V. Nair

The Underlying Link Between Stress And Cancer

Cancer is one of the most fatal and leading lifestyle disease worldwide. As per the the WHO estimates, 30 % of the cancer deaths occur due to poor and unhealthy lifestyle which includes low vegetable and fruit intake, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and sedentary lifestyle. The developing countries like India are more affected by this dreadful disease as 70 % of the cancer deaths occur among low and middle income families(1).

The major cause of transformation of a single normal cell to an abnormally multiplying mass of cells is due to exposure to chemicals termed as “carcinogens”, triggering a genetic abnormality. Most potent carcinogens include ultraviolet and ionizing radiations(including the radiations emitted from mobile phones and laptops which are categorized a “possibly carcinogenic” by the WHO), alcohol, tobacco smoke, air pollutants(2800 chemicals in atmosphere today are listed as carcinogens),pesticides and herbicides(2) .

India, at various geographical locations has witnessed different types of cancer among men and women depending upon the exposure of carcinogens in that particular area. Punjab Malwa belt has a higher rate of kidney, urinary bladder and breast cancer due to pollution, pesticides and toxins in food. Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have higher rates of head, neck and oral cancer due to the extensive use of tobacco. Similarly, south and coastal areas suffer from stomach cancer due to excessive consumption of salt and spices(3).

Surprisingly, the mechanism through which the various carcinogens or lets say “stress inducers” cause cancer is the same. Under normal conditions,during the process of metabolism and energy production, a group of atoms called “free radicals” are formed. Carcinogens induce excessive production of these free radicals which further react with cellular componant like the DNA(the genetic material present in our body) and ultimately cause cancer(4,5).

Our body,hence is equipped with an antioxidant system comprised of antioxidants which we recieve from nutrional foods like fruits,vegetables and cereals. These antioxidants neutralize and eliminate the free radicals and thus prevent our body from damage. But unfortunately, an unhealthy lifestyle with insufficient intake of adequate antioxidants and physical inactivity lead to an imbalance between the amount of free radicals produced and antioxidants leading to cell damage and eventually cancer.

Several scientific investigations and epidemiological observations have revealed significance of antioxidants in protecting our body from development of cancer. Thus, regular dietary supplementation of antioxidants will not only help in reducing risk of lifestyle diseases like cancer but also prevent various deficiency disorders (1,2,4,5).


  • http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8474991
  • India Today, February 10, 2014
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569/
  • http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163712001468

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