The thought that relentlessly haunts cancer survivors, even after successfully having their illness treated, is the fear of its return. This becomes especially salient around the time of getting regular post-treatment screenings. Unfortunately, even when we think the cancer is gone, it is common that some cancer cells remain and are dormant. Scientists have been studying how dormant cancer cells, which are inactive and hidden, can become active again and lead to cancer recurrence. A new study focused on the role of stress and a type of white blood cell called neutrophils and how stress can cause recurrence of disease.
The researchers discovered that stress hormones can make neutrophils release certain proteins called S100A8/A9, which cause inflammation in the body – one factor linked with increased risk of cancer. These proteins activate a substance called myeloperoxidase and lead to the buildup of harmful substances called oxidized lipids inside the neutrophils. When these lipids are released from the neutrophils, they stimulate the growth of cancer cells, causing them to wake up from dormancy and form new cancers.
In patients with lung cancer who had their tumors completely removed, higher levels of S100A8/A9 in their blood were linked to a shorter time until the cancer came back. However, the researchers found that by targeting either S100A8/A9 or certain receptors called β2-adrenergic receptors, which are involved in the stress response and cancer growth, they could prevent the reactivation of dormant cancer cells caused by stress.
These findings show that there is a connection between stress, the activity of specific neutrophils, and early recurrence of cancer. Managing stress is important for cancer patients, and here are three ways to do it:
Remember, managing stress is not only beneficial for your mental health but may also play a role in preventing cancer recurrence and improving your long-term outcomes.
Photo credit: Rhoda Baer
In recent years, the widespread prevalence of microplastics has emerged as a growing concern. These tiny plastic particles, measuring less than 5mm in size, have infiltrated various ecosystems, including our oceans, rivers, or bodies, and even the air we breathe. While their impact on the environment is well-documented, the potential health risks posed by microplastics to human beings have raised significant alarm bells among scientists and researchers.
Several studies have shown that certain types of microplastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which are known endocrine disruptors, can leach from plastic particles. These chemicals have the potential to mimic or interfere with natural hormones in the body, leading to disruptions in the endocrine system. While human exposure to microplastics is widespread, it is challenging to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and endocrine-related health issues.
One study examined the presence of microplastics in human stool samples. The study found microplastics in all the samples analyzed, indicating that humans are exposed to microplastics through ingestion. Another study analyzed the presence of microplastics in human tissues, including the colon and another study found MPs in lung tissue. It is estimated that on average humans consume a credit card worth of microplastics on a weekly basis.
There is a more definitive harmful effect of microplastics when we look to the animal studies. Research suggests that exposure to microplastics and can impact inflammation-related disorders. An animal study conducted at the University of California exposed mice to various concentrations of microplastic particles commonly in the environment, including polyethylene and polystyrene, and found that there was a significant increase in inflammation markers, indicating a potential correlation between microplastics exposure and inflammation-related health issues. The study suggested that microplastics may play a role in the development or exacerbation of conditions such as asthma, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders, which linked with chronic inflammation.
Microplastics have even been found to disrupt the gut microbiota. A study explored the impact of microplastics on the gut microbiota—a complex community of microorganisms residing in our digestive system that plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. The researchers exposed zebrafish to environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics commonly found in marine ecosystems. The results revealed a significant disruption in the composition and diversity of the zebrafish gut microbiota. This disruption was accompanied by microbiota dysbiosis, metabolomic dysregulation, and oxidative stress. Disruptions in gut microbiota have been associated with a wide range of health issues, including metabolic disorders, immune dysfunction, and mental health disorders, suggesting that microplastics may have the potential to disturb the delicate balance of our gut microbiota and contribute to various health complications.
Microplastics undergo various changes in the digestive system and appear to be different in structure when they reach the colon. A recent study found that consuming microplastics can alter the composition of the microbial community in the human colon. The researchers suggest that some bacteria in the colon may attach to the surface of microplastics, leading to the formation of biofilms. These findings indicate that microplastics can have negative effects on digestive health. Given the growing exposure to microplastics in the food and beverages we consume, it is important to investigate how plastics affect the functioning of the gut microbiome and whether they can be broken down by digestion and intestinal bacteria.
While these studies provide valuable insights into the presence of microplastics in humans, they do not establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and health issues. Further research is needed to understand the potential long-term effects of microplastics on the endocrine system and human health. Controlled human studies, along with more comprehensive monitoring and analytical techniques, are essential for drawing more definitive conclusions.
As the research in this field continues to progress, it is crucial to prioritize measures to reduce microplastic pollution and limit human exposure. By minimizing the production and consumption of single-use plastics and promoting sustainable waste management practices, we can contribute to a healthier environment and potentially reduce the potential risks associated with microplastics to the endocrine system and human health.
Reducing exposure to microplastics is essential for both personal and environmental well-being. Here are three simple ways to minimize your exposure to microplastics:
By incorporating these simple practices into your daily life, you can significantly reduce your exposure to microplastics and contribute to a healthier environment.
Photo: Close-up of microplastics. Credit – pcess609 Getty Images / iStockphoto