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Socially active environment can cause cancer tumors to shrink and even disappear

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: socialize, cancer, health news

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(NaturalNews) If you or someone you know ever receives a cancer diagnosis, especially one that is labeled "incurable" or fatal, take heart in the fact spontaneous regression (remission) has been reported in the medical literature numerous times for virtually all cancers. Spontaneous regression has been documented most often in neuroblastoma, renal cell carcinoma, lymphoma and malignant melanoma. And, as NaturalNews has previous reported, scientists have also discovered recently that some invasive breast cancers appear to simply go away on their own (https://www.naturalnews.com/024901.html). Now comes research from Ohio State University that could help explain what triggers spontaneous remissions.

The new study, published in the July 9th issues of the journal Cell found that when mice with cancer were given enriched living conditions and a boost in their social life, their tumors shrank -- and some of their cancers disappeared completely. That's powerful evidence, the scientists say, that social connections and an individual's mental state, play an important role in the way the body responds to malignancies. "Animals' interaction with the environment has a profound influence on the growth of cancer -- more than we knew was possible," Matthew During, who headed the study, said in a statement to the press.

The lab rodents were originally housed in groups of about five, given all the food they wanted and allowed to play all day. However, for the research project, mice with cancer were placed in an even better, enriched environment. They had bigger living groups with 15 to 20 other animals to interact with. They also had more space and extra toys, hiding places and running wheels.

During and his colleague, Lei Cao, found that malignant tumors in animals living in this enriched environment started to shrink. In fact, tumors decreased by an impressive 77 percent in mass and decreased in volume by 43 percent, the researchers report. Moreover, five percent of mice with cancer showed no evidence of the disease at all after just three weeks of living in their new home. That seemingly spontaneous cancer cure never happened in control animals kept in standard housing.

So what specifically is going on here that impacts cancer? Animals in a regular mice environment in the lab who exercised more didn't experience improvements in their cancer, so the scientists say more exercise isn't the total explanation. Instead, they think the complex social dimension in the new living arrangement was apparently the key.

The enriched living environment appears to have sparked more, but apparently cancer-fighting, stress in the cancer-stricken mice. The animals showed higher levels of stress hormones called glucocorticoids. What this means, the researchers said in statement to the media, is that low levels of stress, or certain kinds of stress, are probably beneficial.

"A lot of people think stress is bad, but our data show the animals aren't just happy. Antidepressants won't give you the same effect," the scientists said in the press statement. "The goal isn't to minimize stress, but to live a richer life, socially and physically. You want to be challenged."

In addition, the rodents had lower levels of a hormone produced by fat called leptin, indicative of a significant shift in metabolism. Their immune systems also appeared to be "ramped up a bit," During said.

During and his colleague pinned down an increase in a growth factor expressed in the hypothalamus called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the mice living in the improved mouse environment. Further study revealed that manipulations designed to increase BDNF levels also reduced tumor burden. If animals lacked BDNF, the benefits of an enriched environment were not apparent.

The findings could ultimately lead to advances in the way cancer and other diseases are treated -- perhaps through environmental modifications that offer mental and social stimulation. "We're really showing that you can't look at a disease like cancer in isolation," During said in the media statement. "For too long, physicians and others have stuck to what they know -- surgery, chemo, radiotherapy. Traditionally working on the area of lifestyle and the brain has been a 'soft area'. This paper really suggests if we look at people more in terms of their perceptions of disease, their social interactions and environment, we could realize a profound influence on cancer..."

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