Stress And Illness
Continuously, studies are being aimed at trying to determine the relationship of illness and state of mind. During the 1980s, physicians at the University of California Medical Center in Los Angeles determined that emotional stress affected the immune system and that, conversely, the reduction of stress boosted the immune system.
Significant breakthroughs in the late 1990s found stress causes an immediate and significant increase in the release of the hormone corticotrophin (ACTH) by the anterior pituitary gland, causing many stress-related behaviors in the nervous system, including the fight-or-flight response. This is followed soon thereafter by drastically increased secretion of the hormone cortisol, which is intended to relieve the damaging effects of stress. However, the prolonged secretion of cortisol has the potential to cause or worsen biological and psychological diseases and disorders.
Clinical studies reported in the December 2, 1997 issue of the journal Circulation, published by the American Heart Association, found exaggerated response to mental stress can produce the same degree of atherosclerosis risk as does smoking and high cholesterol, thereby drastically increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Another study in 1997 showed that the stress of being diagnosed with cancer also reduces the activity and therefore effectiveness of natural killer (NK) cells—cells whose role it is to seek and kill malignant (cancer) cells. It also decreases their ability to respond to recombinant interferon gamma, a form of cancer therapy aimed to help them do their job.
Other diseases associated with stress are the onset of adult diabetes (type 2 non-insulin-dependent), ulcers, respiratory infections, and depression. The stress can be psychological or it can come from stressful situations such as accidents or illness.