The wear and tear on the body from chronic and lifelong stress can also lead to an increased risk of dying from cancer, Medical College of Georgia researchers report.
That wear and tear, called allostatic load, refers to the cumulative effects of stress over time. “As a response to external stressors, your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol, and then once the stress is over, these levels should go back down,” says Dr. Justin Xavier Moore, epidemiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Cancer Center. “However, if you have chronic, ongoing psychosocial stressors, that never allow you to ‘come down,’ then that can cause wear and tear on your body at a biological level.”
Investigators, led by Moore, performed a retrospective analysis of more than 41,000 people from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, collected between 1988-2019. That database includes baseline biological measures of participants — body mass index, diastolic and systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, hemoglobin A1C (higher levels indicate a risk for diabetes), albumin and creatinine (both measures of kidney function) and C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation) — that the researchers used to determine allostatic load. Those with a score of more than 3 were categorized as having high allostatic load.
Then they cross referenced those participants with the National Death Index, maintained by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to determine which people died from cancer and when, Moore explains.
“To date, there has been limited research on the relationship between allostatic load and cancer among a current, nationally representative sample of US adults,” Moore and his colleagues write in the journal SSM Population Health. “Examining the association of allostatic load on cancer outcomes, and whether these associations vary by race may give insight to novel approaches in mitigating cancer disparities.”
The researchers found that, even without adjusting for any potential confounders like age, social demographics like race and sex, poverty to income ratio and educational level, those with a high allostatic load were 2.4 times more likely to die from cancer than those with low allostatic loads.
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