Is there evidence spirituality helps? It may be that healthier levels of cortisol, a biomarker commonly associated with stress, among breast cancer survivors is key.
One in eight women develop breast cancer at some point in their lives, and previous studies show chronic stress in breast cancer survivors is linked with increased inflammation and risk for cancer recurrence. University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing Professor Jennifer Hulett and colleagues collected and froze samples of saliva from 41 breast cancer survivors at MU’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. She identified breast cancer survivors’ reports of practicing forgiveness and receiving positive social support from their congregation or other social support network were linked with two specific biomarkers, alpha-amylase and interleukin-6.
“Cortisol and stress suggest chronic inflammation, and anything we can do to lower levels of stress and inflammation will have a good effect on a patient’s longevity, health outcomes and reduced risk of reoccurring disease,” Hulett said. “We often hear about diet and exercise in promoting physical health, but we rarely hear about the importance of managing stress, and all three are connected with well-being.
“We know cortisol is linked with stress, and elevated levels of the immune biomarker interleukin 6 suggests inflammation. By first finding out which biomarkers are meaningful to look at, we can then see how they are potentially influenced by various spiritual or mindfulness practices aimed at reducing inflammation.”
The work may lead to future research that could evaluate the effectiveness of spiritual and mindfulness interventions, including daily prayer, mediation, yoga and relaxation, on health outcomes among cancer survivors and individuals with chronic disease.
Citation: Hulett, J.M., Johnstone, B., Armer, J.M. et al. Associations between religious and spiritual variables and neuroimmune activity in survivors of breast cancer: a feasibility study. Support Care Cancer (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-021-06224-7