How your mind can help you fight cancer

How your mind can help you fight cancer

Your mind plays a crucial role in your health via the Hypothalamus. Fear and stress damage the immune system and the gut microbiome, they cause inflammation and promote the enzyme COX-2, which both causes and spreads cancer. Managing your stress can promote wellness and increase cancer survival.

The research is clear. If you are watching a ‘thriller’ your heart may begin to race; some people watching a horror movies get chills down their spine. Your sensory perception (sight and sound) has produced a chemical response in your brain. In turn, this affected your endocrine system and you produce the hormone adrenaline; an important hormone in your own survival when under attack!

It is well-established science. Your psychological and emotional thoughts are transcribed into a chemical hormonal response. The transmission centre is the hypothalamus, known to transfer emotions into a physical response.

The Brain

The brain and spinal cord are the two main structures of the Central Nervous system.

There are three parts to the brain:

  • The Forebrain – Evaluates messages from the senses and is responsible for thinking and perception
  • The Midbrain  – Associated with sight, sound and motor functions
  • The Hindbrain – Responsible for autonomic functions such as breathing, gut movement and heart rate; and functions such as balance.

The midbrain and the hindbrain together are called the brain stem and this joins the spinal cord.

The Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is a small area of the brain, located below the thalamus and near the pituitary gland. It is part of the Limbic System - a set of brain units located on both sides of the thalamus. This system supports a variety of functions, from your sense of smell to your emotions, your behaviour and your long-term memory.

The hypothalamus has three parts, each containing a number of small nuclei or clusters of neurons.

One of the most important functions of the hypothalamus is to link the nervous system to the endocrine system, via the pituitary gland. 

It's a chain reaction: Senses - Hypothalamus - Pituitary - Adrenals

This is not meant to be a detailed explanation of the brain. Put simply, the electronic messages from the Cerebrum (the largest area of the brain) and the spinal cord are passed to the Thalamus. This relays them to the Hypothalamus and this directs the hormone system via the Pituitary.

The hypothalamus is the Control Centre – it receives emotions as neuropeptides and transmits the message ultimately via hormones to the organs.

The hypothalamus controls body temperature, blood sugar, how hungry you feel; it affects the digestive tract, the immune system, the liver, the adrenals, the lungs and the heart.

Cut my arm – my whole body will get the message and respond.

Tell me something bad or tell me something good – my whole body will respond.

There’s no difference. The electronic messages and hormones are intertwined.

Can stress cause and spread cancer?

We know that stress causes cancer to spread. For example, researchers from Basel showed that that an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol is linked to an increase in glucocorticoid receptor sites in distant organs and to a greater level of metastases in breast cancer (1).

We know that stress can alter the composition of the microbiome and that there is a strong gut-brain axis (2). At the 2016 ‘Neurobiology of Stress’ workshop in Newport Beach, CA, a group of experts presented a paper entitled ‘The Microbiome: Development, Stress, and Disease.  For example, we know from studies I present in my book ‘Heal your Gut – You’re your Body’, that before and at birth,  a stressed mother, a mother on drugs and an ill mother can each have a significant and negative effect on baby’s microbiome and their short and mid-term development, as can early antibiotics, or Caesarean births and lack of breast feeding.

And we know that certain bacteria in a strong microbiome produce compounds such as Serotonin, which can positively affect mood.  We know a poor gut microbiome composition is linked to depression. We know that there is a bi-directional system between the gut and the brain and that it is mediated by neuro-immune, neuro-endocrine and neuro-sensory pathways (7). For example, we know that children who have taken drugs for leukaemia (which damage the microbiome) go on to have higher levels of depression and higher rates of suicide later in life (3). A recent study on the gut-brain axis showed another practical connection – inflammation in the astrocytes in the brain is normally controlled by interferon-gamma known to be produced by gut bacteria (4). When the gut is compromised, inflammation occurs in the brain.

‘Fear’ is known to affect the neuroendocrine system via the hypothalamus then pituitary then adrenal chain, which then produces 'fight or flight' hormone adrenaline (5) and increases heart rate. Alternatively, when you get ‘stressed’, the amygdala in the brain recognise the problem, pass it to the hypothalamus, which processes it then passes the message to your pituitary and on to the adrenals and they produce stress hormone cortisol.

So, you can see, the messages your brain receives are proven to result in long-term modulation of your physiology and behaviour. 

Can stress cause cancer?

Firstly, it is worth knowing that Cancer Research UK have a page on their Website entitled ‘Can stress cause cancer’, to which their answer is one word: ‘No’. Apparently, (to quote) ‘Studies have looked at lots of people for several years’, to come to this ridiculous conclusion.

Fortunately, we have the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research who have the goal ‘to advance the science of stress and health to help prevent disease and help human health’.

Unsurprisingly, with charities like CRUK around, the UCLA team have said that ‘Stress Management is the most neglected area in cancer treatment’ and ‘People who actively manage their stress survive cancer significantly longer’.

Indeed, stress hormones can promote cancer development through a variety of mechanisms, for example through changes to the gut microbiome, and/or through the body's immune function, and/or through an inflammatory response. And through an enzyme called COX-2.

Adrenaline and cortisol, two of the three main adrenal hormones can turn on COX-2 which will then create highly inflammatory hormones called eicosanoids. There are about 130 of these and they last just a few seconds. A small subsection of these are called prostaglandins and they are linked to arthritis. A man called John Vane in 1982 won a knighthood and a Nobel prize for his work on this.

I’d like to quote a 2019 review (6) on COX-2, cancer and stress, for the benefit of people working in senior positions at Cancer Research –

COX-2 is frequently expressed in many types of cancers exerting a pleiotropic and multifaceted role in genesis or promotion of carcinogenesis and cancer cell resistance to chemo- and radiotherapy. COX-2 is released by cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), macrophage type 2 (M2) cells, and cancer cells to the tumor microenvironment (TME). COX-2 induces cancer stem cell (CSC)-like activity, and promotes apoptotic resistance, proliferation, angiogenesis, inflammation, invasion, and metastasis of cancer cells.

Positive and negative ‘Vibes’

Let’s start with doctor’s, nurses and their bedside manners. As Henry Ford once said, “There are those who think they can, and there are those who think they can’t. And they are both usually right".

If a ‘medical expert’ tells a patient they are 'terminal' or they have about 3 months to live, it’s like putting the black spot on their forehead. It is damning. It prays on the patient's mind. It prays on their neuropeptides and via the hypothalamus and pituitary and adrenals, it prays on their stress hormones. It prays on their microbiome. It prays on their immune system. It promotes cancer. It could even be self-fulfilling.

"You, beating cancer; no chance!" is basically what is being said. Who is an oncologist to say this?  He only has drugs, surgery and radiotherapy to prescribe. He knows little about the role of the hypothalamus in illness and in healing.

UCLA have produced a couple of major research analyses over the years. One is all about reducing stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline). It says the best solution is fourfold:

  • Consuming a colourful Mediterranean Diet (the Rainbow Diet),
  • Consuming fish oils and oily fish,
  • Yoga and aerobic exercise,
  • Meditation and/or Prayer

The first nourishes your microbiome; the second contains omega 3 a known regulator of Cox-2, the third produces Endorphins (regulators of cortisol) and the fourth produces Opioids (regulators of adrenaline). Endorphins plus Opioids are synergistic 'calmers' in the body.

You could use aerobic exercise instead or alongside yoga, or watch funny movies, laugh and cuddle. All produce Endorphins.

There are other options - for example, Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that reduces cortisol and manages inflammation; Frankincense reduces adrenaline.

UCLA's second paper, drawn from all their research on the mind, talks about using ‘counselling’. We prefer ‘mental therapies’ such as Visualisation, EFT and PSYCH-K which encorage positive thoughts and the hormonal changes then produced.

In particular, we like to focus on the power of belief; if you believe you can do something, you usually can. It is a shame one has to take action with patients to correct the negativity of the certain members of the Medical team.

Nourish your body; Nourish your mind

We know how to nourish our bodies – eat a Rainbow diet with lots of whole soluble fibre such as oats, nuts and seeds, vegetables and pulses, plus Extra Virgin Olive Oil, oily fish and fish oils, and lots of other microbiome-enhancing foods – from berries to walnuts, garlic and onions.

But how many people with cancer realise that they need to nourish their minds too?

Nourishing your mind is about thinking positive thoughts; fresh air, attuning to nature and beliefs. It is also about un-cluttering your life, eating slowly with no distractions, calming yourself with meditation, prayer, yoga, mindfulness. It’s a big topic.

If the neuropeptides created by the messages you receive can be turned via the Hypothalamus and Pituitary into hormones that can change the performance of your organs and your cells negatively and make you ill, why would you not believe that thinking positive thoughts can start a healing process? It's called logic. As we learn more, it is called science!

Monks that sit in the snow meditating don’t freeze to death! Patients having surgery at the New York Presbyterian Hospital who had just 20 minutes of meditation beforehand lost 40 per cent less blood than those who didn’t.

Endorphins are produced naturally in the body, for example after exercise. The word comes from Endogenous (meaning, made in the body) and morphine (the opioid pain reliever). They are neuropeptides and directed by the hypothalamus, and stored in the pituitary. Runners in a marathon produce high levels of these 'happy hormones' and after the race can feel on a real high - that's opiods for you. They correct stress and fear hormones, so is it too much to believe that they would not stop the cancer process?

You might find the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton interesting. He is credited with bringing Quantum Physics to his prime subject, Cellular Biology. Lipton believes your inherited genes actually don’t really control much in your life, but your belief system does. He calls it the Power of Consciousness and he wrote a book back in 2005 called ‘The Power of Belief’. Lipton believes that you can reprogramme everything about yourself, right down to the cellular level, just by genuinely changing your beliefs. Of course, the skeptics have called him a quack and claim he is saying your genes are worthless.

What is clear is that he believes that if you change your mindset and believe you can beat your cancer, you have a much better chance of doing so. Positive thoughts will direct positive hormones in the body.

People beat cancer because they are determined; they have the will to live; or they just don’t imagine the cancer is going to beat them. They have positive beliefs, they visualise an outcome their oncologist dismisses.

The first three people I 'helped' – Geoff Boycott, Galina Dean and Mrs O, were all told that they had just months to live. Geoff said he cried for three days when he was told he had 12 weeks. All are still with us 18 years later.

It would be far better if Oncologists were more honest and said, “Based on our own limited weaponry, if you only use it like my other patients did, you might not live as long as someone who expands their treatment options and also believes in a different outcome!'

That would be far, far nearer the truth about healing cancer.


  1. Stress causes breast cancer to spread
  2. The Neurobiology of Stress (2017; Jane Foster et al. Stress and the Gut-Brain axis)
  3. Astrocyte nflammation controlled by gut bacteria
  4. Health related quality of life amongst child cancersurvivors
  5. Chronic Stress promotes cancer Development (Front Oncology; 19 Aug 2020; Shirui Dai et al)
  6. Cox-2 in cancer; a Review
  7. Gut Microbiome and Depression - Gal Winter, Robert Hart et al; Rev Neuroscience, 2018 Aug 28; 29 (6) 629-643


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