Mood is Where the Illness is

Research shows that depression and resistance to disease are strongly linked. This is particularly significant when battling an illness like cancer.

Happy girlYes, having a strong immune system can help save lives. I, therefore, think of cancer as a disease that must be fought with treatments for both mind and body – with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, when needed, and also with techniques which boost mood and immunity. Naturally!

Social support, for example, can also extend the life of a cancer patient. In a landmark study on emotions and cancer published in the respected medical journal, The Lancet, it was found that women with cancer who attended support groups lived twice as long, on average, as those who did not.

Another study from the University of California, at Los Angeles, US, indicated that patients who had survived cancer for at least five years, and attended group therapy lived three times as long as those who didn’t seek therapy.

Immune boost good

When people are grieving, their T-cells and natural killer cells – both important immune system defenders – function less effectively. Support from family, friends and fellow sufferers not only provides comfort, but may also improve a person’s health by bolstering immune cells.

People who feel isolated face the opposite effect: depression, anxiety and increased risk of cancer.

The National Cancer Institute, US, published a study of 4,825 healthy individuals, 146 of whom were chronically depressed. Those who had been depressed for at least six years were more likely to develop cancer. Another study, from the Ohio State University, US, found that breast cancer patients who reported high levels of anxiety about their disease showed a major reduction in the effectiveness of their natural “killer” cells. This doesn’t mean that mood can cause cancer, but it does imply that depression and anxiety lower immunity – and, that can also be a risk factor for cancer and other diseases.

A stimulating study published in The Journal of Research and Social Medicine, however, suggests that cancer might cause depression. Researchers examined 43 patients with liver tumours and found a significant correlation between clinical depression and an immune modulator called interleukin sIL2r alpha. This chemical is released when our immune system battles cancer cells. The inference is: the same substance which fights the disease may also biologically trigger depression.

Scary as this may sound, it’s actually good news, because, it gives us some new tools for treating cancer patients. In addition to surgery and medicine, we can use the power of the mind to impact health.

There are also a host of natural remedies which I recommend to patients diagnosed with cancer, especially immune boosters like alkylglycerols, green tea, and maitake mushroom extracts.

But, just as important is – we need to seek emotional comfort and support, to help improve our outlook on life. Taking the time to meditate and reflect on our experiences can also alleviate stress and negative thoughts, thus strengthening the immune system.

The mind-body connection is powerful, and we need to use it to our advantage.

To chromium, or not to.

To look at another topic. Much controversy has risen today over chromium picolinate – a supplement frequently taken by athletes, diabetics, and people trying to lose weight. Chromium is used by the body to facilitate the job of insulin, and help the metabolism of glucose and, consequently, the metabolism of fat.

An article published in The New York Times, however, states that chromium picolinate “has been shown in tests done on cells grown in the laboratory to cause severe damage to chromosomes,” and, that, “the genetic changes observed in the laboratory suggest that this widely sold supplement could be carcinogenic [cancer-causing substance].”

Some explanation comes from researchers at Dartmouth College and George Washington University Medical Center, US, who tested the effects of chromium picolinate on cells derived from the ovary of a Chinese hamster. When exposed to “reasonable doses” of chromium picolinate, the researchers report, the cells suffered chromosomal damage that ranged from three to 18 times the amount that occurred in cells exposed to other chromium compounds. Researchers also explain that when chromium works inside the body, it does so outside of the cells and is usually not absorbed in the cells; but, when combined with picolinate, it can get inside cells and affect the genetic information stored within.

So, what is “normal and reasonable dose?” According to Dr C Leigh Broadhurst, a Visiting Scientist at the Vitamin and Research Laboratory in Maryland, US, and an assistant to Dr Richard Anderson – one of the world’s leading researchers on dietary chromium – chromium picolinate is completely safe, and is the best absorbed form of chromium for nutritional supplementation.

Dr Broadhurst goes on to say that studies that were conducted on the damaging effects of chromium picolinate are quite distorted: “A normal dosage of 200 mcg per day,” he reports, produces a serum chromium concentration of around 16 nanomoles [A mole is an amount of a substance that contains a large number {six followed by 23 zeros} of molecules, or atoms. A nanomole is one-billionth of a mole]. This stands in contrast to the laboratory concentration of 100 micromoles used in the quoted study to induce clastogenecity [chromosomal breaks]. The difference here is a factor of 6,000!”

Dr Broadhurst compares this discrepancy to making someone drink 48,000 glasses of water as opposed to the recommended 8-10. All this can get quite confusing.

A recent study has, in fact, shown a 38 per cent improvement with chromium picolinate in glucose tolerance in patients suffering with polycystic ovary disease. Chromium picolinate is a supplement primarily used to improve glucose tolerance in patients suffering with conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

Now, the big question. Should we give up chromium picolinate as a supplement? Not necessarily. Chromium picolinate is safe as part of a balanced diet. The only thing is: we’d all do well not to overdo it.

Richard Firshein
Dr Richard Firshein, DO, is Medical Director of the Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. A leading authority in the field of preventive medicine and medical nutrition, and Board Certified in Family Medicine and authorised medical acupuncturist, Firshein’s groundbreaking books include: Reversing Asthma, The Nutraceutical Revolution, and Dr Richard Firshein’s ‘Breath of Life’ Program: 7 Steps Towards an Asthma Free Child.


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