What you need to know about the anxiety – cancer link in Men

Worried chaps really do have something dreadful to fret about. A University of Cambridge study released this week claims that men who suffer from anxiety are more than twice as likely to die from cancer as men who don’t. What’s more, the study of nearly 16,000 Britons found that chronic anxiety affected only men in this way. Women seem to be immune.

This is an article from “The Australian” 23/9/2016, reproduced from “The Times” for Menism.

The results add an intriguing new piece to the jigsaw of evidence linking chronic fretfulness to men’s sickness and death. The emerging picture presents us with a scientific puzzle: because while it establishes a strong statistical association between cancer and clinical anxiety — called generalised anxiety disorder — it leaves doubts about why this should be. GAD is characterised by excessive, uncontrollable worry about many areas of life.

Those affected can experience symptoms such as muscle tension, insomnia and an inability to concentrate. It afflicts more than 60,000 Britons, about 5 per cent of the adult population. The simplest explanation would be that anxious men tend to smoke and drink more and look after themselves less. However, after statistical analysis compensated for those factors, the strong association remained. The study’s evidence on the physical risks of male anxiety is backed by previous evidence.

A Finnish study in 2014 that followed middle-aged men for 23 years found that those who scored highly on psychological tests for anxiety had a significantly increased risk of death from all causes, not just cancer. Research from the University of Edinburgh indicates that even mild subclinical anxiety, the sort that sufferers think unworthy of medical attention, may raise the risk of early death by more than a fifth. The study, in the British Medical Journal in 2012, examined deaths in 68,000 middle-aged and older people whom they followed from 1994 to 2004. It did not discriminate between sexes but found, overall, people suffering from subclinical anxiety were at a 29 per cent increased risk of dying from heart disease and stroke. Tom Russ, the psychiatrist who led the study, remains cautious about whether anxiety causes illness or whether the two are merely somehow associated with each other.

He adds:


There is one further possibility: that chronic gnawing anxiety in men causes physical reactions that fire up the body’s defences, sparking off damaging long-term body-wide inflammation that in turn may cause a wide range of illnesses. Researchers increasingly have pinpointed such physical responses to chronic anxiety. Three years ago, psychiatrists at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam reported in the journal Translational Psychiatry that men who developed anxiety disorders in adult life showed significantly raised levels of inflammatory chemicals in their bloodstream, such as C-reactive protein. This increase in CRP appears to happen only in anxious men, not women. While these substances are powerful weapons in our armoury against infection, they are physically harmful if they persist at chronic levels because of long-term anxiety. In particular, they are linked to a raised risk of developing cancers as well as heart disease and diabetes. Furthermore, sleep disturbances associated with anxiety also can spark the production of CRP, according to other recent research by the Dutch investigators. Worse still, this type of interaction can turn into a vicious cycle, where anxiety causes the body to release inflammatory chemicals that in turn make the brain more anxious. Likewise, “gut fear” seems to have a physical effect on the brain. Last year, University of Texas researchers reported how their tests on rats showed that stomach inflammation characteristic of ulcerative colitis (which is exacerbated by stress) increased the rats’ stress levels.

Anxious men can help themselves through straightforward lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and taking regular exercise to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorder because it can reduce inflammation. And finally, try not to worry about cancer.

THE TIMES ‘Gut fear’ seems to have a physical effect on the brain Copyright © 2015.

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