Mental State Impacts Speed of Tumour ProgressionNow I’m sure we’ve all heard about the idea that “if you think positively, then positive thing will happen to you”. Well, new research is now suggesting that positive vibes might even slow down cancer!

The research has been published in Nature Communications and has shown some evidence that the feel-good chemicals that are released when we are enjoying ourselves, are reaching our immune system and empowering a subset of bone marrow cells to slow the growth of tumours.  

It’s like “doing immunotherapy without medication,” says Fahed Hakim, who directs the EMMS Nazareth Hospital and works as a paediatric pulmonologist and sleep specialist at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel, referring to a recent class of cancer drugs that work by equipping the patient’s own immune system to fight tumours.

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Researchers from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology used tools to activate the reward system in mice but has yet to be validated in humans. Cancerous mice that received daily reward circuit stimulation had tumours that were 40-50% smaller than those in control mice, not receiving the brain stimulation.

The idea that this reward circuit might play a role in health isn’t as new as you might think. Brain imaging experiments revealed that the same reward circuit was firing in people that were responding to placebos a decade ago. Although the link between the network and the immune system was yet to be revealed.

It seemed fair to assume positive thoughts and emotions would alter the activity of neurons in the brain. “And neuronal activity is something we can manipulate,” says biologist Asya Rolls of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who was co-senior author of the study.

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What’s interesting is that the opposite it true, too. Hakim studied mouse models of cancer and published a 2014 study showing that fragmented sleep made the animals’ tumours grow faster. If bad sleep triggers tumour-promoting brain activity, Hakim says, it seemed reasonable to think that activating the reward pathway might produce the opposite effect: brain changes that slow cancer.