Stress: learning to manage it can save you from cancer

Chronic stress can have several negative consequences on health and poison existence. A study published in Nature indicates that sustained stress over long periods of time damages our DNA and can thus promote the development of cancer. Learning to better manage stress is therefore an excellent resolution for the new year!

Stress is a phenomenon absolutely essential to survival: the detection of a danger by our sensory organs (smell of smoke, sight of a threatening character, sound of a gunshot) triggers a maximum alert of the brain which will initiate a series extremely complex processes called “fight-flight response”.

By activating the adrenal glands, the brain controls the release into the blood of hormones of action such as adrenaline in order to increase the rate of breathing, the heartbeat, the delivery of oxygen to the tissues as well as the level of arousal and attention.

What is commonly called the survival instinct is therefore essentially a stress reaction, a biologically programmed response which aims to mobilize our resources so as to be able to fight or flee quickly from a potentially fatal danger.

Chronic stress derails our health

Stress is usually short-lived, as the many physiological effects associated with it are extreme and can cause longer-term negative effects on the body.

Moreover, when it persists and becomes chronic, stress is known to promote the development of several disorders, including (among others) gastrointestinal disorders such as stomach ulcers, certain cardiovascular diseases, a weakening of the immune system that promotes infections, depression and sleep disorders. Not to mention that chronic stress is often associated with bad lifestyle habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, two factors that significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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Chronic stress alters DNA

American researchers have shown that prolonged stress can also lead to abnormalities in the chromosomes. They observed that the sustained presence of adrenaline, as occurs in people who are constantly stressed, causes a significant increase in damage in the DNA structure.

This harmful effect of adrenaline is due to the overstimulation of a cascade responsible for the degradation of the protein p53, one of the main guardians of the integrity of genetic material. This harmful effect of stress on DNA is even observed at the level of spermatozoa, suggesting that the chronic stress experienced by men could cause anomalies that can be passed on to their children.

Chronic stress is therefore not only harmful to the normal functioning of our organs, but also causes DNA alterations that could promote the development of several diseases, including cancer.

Several tools to fight against stress

Even though we live in a performance-driven society where stressful conditions abound, there are many ways to deal with this problem.

Perhaps the simplest is to learn to focus on the problems we can solve and minimize those that are beyond our control: we have long known that action is a powerful “anti-stress” while the inability to acting is frustrating and stressful.

For example, instead of stressing out because you’re stuck in a traffic jam (a problem you can’t solve), take advantage of this setback to think about the concrete actions you’re going to take to solve certain problems you encounter on the road. work or at home.

A wide variety of complementary approaches can also be implemented to reduce the level of stress according to your personal interests: regular physical exercise, relaxation techniques (yoga, tai-chi), cardiac coherence, meditation, learning to play a musical instrument, adopt a pet, walk in the forest, see sophrology and shiatsu specialists…

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Learning to manage stress is not only essential for mental health; it is a crucial parameter for physical health, in the same way as quitting smoking, eating well and controlling body weight.


Hara MR et al. A stress response pathway regulates DNA damage through 2-adrenoreceptors and -arrestin-1. Nature; 477: 349-353.

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