It’s one thing to be stressed but it’s an entirely different thing to not know when to take breaks. Researchers from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University say the habit of being constantly stressed can expose one to a higher risk of dying from cancer compared to not being stressed.

The Allostatic load (AL), also known as “wear and tear” is used to biologically estimate chronic or lifelong stress in an individual. It takes into account stress accumulated over time that could contribute to the subsequent progression of several diseases e.g. cancer.

“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,” explains Dr. Moore, an 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”.

In a recent study published in SSM Population Health, Moore and his team worked to examine the relationship between chronic stress and the risk of cancer-related deaths in a population of US adults from 1988 to 2019. In addition to that, they also wanted to learn whether these associations are different among races/ethnicity.

So far, there has been limited research on the link between chronic stress and cancer-related deaths among a population of US adults.

To experiment, the team looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES. They examined over 41,218 participants above the age of 18 that did the NHANES survey from 1988 to 2019. The study authors scanned for the following components on the database to measure the allostatic loads of the participants: Body Mass Index (BMI), diastolic and systolic blood pressure, hemoglobin A1c, total cholesterol, serum triglycerides, albumin, creatine (to assess kidney functions) and lastly, C-reactive protein (to assess inflammation). The allostatic load scores ranged from 0 to 9 with participants scoring 3 or higher classified as having a high allostatic load. 

Then, they analyzed data of participants from the National Death Index to figure out those that died as a result of cancer and when. The total number of deaths related to cancer was found to be 2,559 deaths with 8,988 deaths arising from other causes.

The researchers found that in the absence of adjusting for models such as age, sociodemographics (race, sex), schooling level, and poverty-to-income ratio, adult participants having a high allostatic load were 2.4 times more likely to face risks of cancer-related deaths than those having a low allostatic load. 

The team then adjusted for sociodemographic conditions such as sex, race, and schooling level including if the participants smoked, once had a heart attack or were diagnosed with cancer and congestive heart failure in the past. They found that among the diverse participants, those with high allostatic load had a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer.

In addition, they further investigated the relationship between high allostatic load and the risk of cancer-related deaths among different races. In this case, they considered: Hispanic, Non-Hispanic Black, and Non-Hispanic white adults. However, they found that the link between allostatic load and cancer deaths was quite weak among the 3 races.

Above all, the study authors believe these findings should give adequate insight to lessen the extent of cancer disparities. 

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