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The Role of Stress & Chronic Disease

stress and disease


This is an excerpt from the book, Healing The Gerson Way: Defeating Cancer and Other Chronic Diseases.


I am often asked whether stress can cause cancer. I don’t think it can, certainly not by itself, but it can be the ultimate extra burden that pushes an already weakened, barely functioning immune system over the edge so that it can no longer dispose of the irregular maverick cells that every healthy organism produces in vast numbers every day. Yet without the eternal vigilance of a well functioning immune system there is nothing to stop a few of those irregular cells to initiate a malignant process.

We are dealing with the mysterious interaction of biochemistry and emotions, which we have only begun to explore and understand. There is already enough orthodox clinical—as opposed to anecdotal—evidence to prove that inner attitudes can make a big difference to survival.

For example, British researcher Stephen Greer interviewed a group of women three months after they had undergone mastectomies, to find out how they were coping. He found four distinct types among them: a fighting spirit, denial, stoic acceptance and hopelessness. After five and ten years, 80% of the fighters, but only 20% of the hopeless, had survived. These rates had nothing to do with medical prognoses.

In the U.S., David Spiegel, M.D., invited 36 women with metastasized breast cancer to attend weekly meetings for a year where they could share worries and sorrows, encourage each other, and make their mental attitude positive. A control group of 50 women attended no such meetings. Spiegel only wanted to discover whether the group meetings enhanced the members’ quality of life, which it certainly did. However, he was amazed to find that they also lived twice as long as the members of the control group.

Another interesting insight comes from US oncologist Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of several best-selling books that have helped to extend public understanding of the body-mind link in health and sickness. He claims that 15-20% of cancer patients consciously or unconsciously want to die, no doubt to escape a difficult life trap; 60-70% wish to get well, but are passive and expect the doctor to do all the work. 15-20%, however, are exceptional: they refuse to be victims, they research their disease, don’t obey the doctor automatically, but instead ask questions, demand control and make informed choices. In Dr. Siegel’s words, “Difficult or uncooperative patients are most likely to get well.” Apparently they have a more warlike immune system than docile patients.


Maintaining healthy stress levels are an important element to not only staying healthy, but also in helping during the healing process. Luckily, there are a number of activities that have been proven to lower stress and relax the mind. Some ideas include:

  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Talking a walk
  • Creating art – even just the act of coloring has been linked with lowering stress
  • Keeping a diary or journal