|Some folks have no trouble sleeping even if it’s mid snack.|
What We Need to Know About Sleep and Cancer
In earlier posts on this blog we looked at the sequence of “events” that change body tissue from the “healthy state” to the “disease state” or “wet state” (see the post on April 2, 2013). We’ve discussed how the immune and lymphatic system is overwhelmed when our “inner terrain” is defiled by persistent toxic input which eventually manifests as dis-eased tissue or tumors. We also showed that chronic inflammation is basically the definition of the “disease state” in body tissue including cancer.
Nutrition and exercise get a lot of attention from the “natural healing” community, but sleep is little mentioned. My research indicates that sleep habits and patterns are as important to maintaining the “healthy state” as any other lifestyle aspect.
Obviously, in sleep, the brain goes “offline” so it is logical that sleep is critical for the health of that organ which uses an enormous amount of energy (about 20% of total body energy expenditure while it is 2% of body mass). Sleep functions to restore brain (and nerve) energy reserves. I won’t elaborate on that fact in this post except that it has to do with brain tissue being able to use only readily available glucose for energy while other body tissue can store glycogen and convert it to glucose when needed. When we run out of brain and nerve energy, we absolutely must sleep to revitalize it.
For a long time, many scientists accepted the idea expressed by a Harvard sleep and dream researcher who stated “Sleep is of the Brain, By the Brain, and For the Brain.” It appears they believed that the rest of the body could benefit as much from quiet rest (when the brain is still “online”) as sleep. Research now indicates otherwise. Sleep is critical for the rest of the body’s health and healing. I will mention several study findings below.
In my long hospitalization after cancer surgery, I remember one doctor awakening me from a sound sleep at 6 a.m. (as usual) to do a routine “once over”. As she left, she said, “Be sure and sleep a lot because that is the time that your body heals.” It’s ironic how difficult it is to sleep in a hospital–or eat nutritionally for that matter. Still, her advice was well founded. Our body wants to heal and regular deep sleep is its best ally.
Our DNA is equipped with two genes in every cell that stave off cancer. These are often referred to as “anti-oncogenes”. As long as both are intact, the cell is protected, but if one or both are damaged, the cell is vulnerable to malignant activity. Lack of deep sleep actually shuts down the activity of over 700 different genes, and, in particular, those controlling inflammation, immunity, stress, metabolism and cancer (both directly and indirectly).
Professor David Speigel of Stanford University points out that how people sleep can seriously alter hormone balance in their bodies which can then influence cancer progression. For example, cortisol is a hormone which peaks at dawn and declines through the day. Cortisol, among many other hormones, regulates the immune system including natural killer cells (NK cells). The NK cells are discussed more later in this post.
Melatonin which lowers estrogen is another hormone affected by sleep because it is produced in the brain during sleep. Some scientists believe diminished melatonin increases risk of breast cancer specifically.
Sleep deprivation suppresses thyroxine which supports tissue metabolism, repair, and growth and prolactin, a growth hormone. “All these hormones normally increase with sleep……It is important to note that suppression of these hormones due to sleep deprivation could contribute to the overall decline in physiological health” and that result has been seen in experiments on chronic sleep deprivation. (Dr. Craig Heller, Stanford U.)
A really interesting study (U of Chicago) showed that sleep deprived rats basically experienced accelerated aging and died of systemic blood infection or septicemia because their immune system became unable to protect the body. As the sleep deprivation worsened, they entered into an increasing negative energy status with hormonal changes, lowered body temperature, skin and fur deterioration, loss of weight while eating more, etc.
A later study at U of Chicago showed that even when sleep deprived rats were released to recovering sleep, they continued to eat 20% more food even after re-gaining body weight. It follows that obesity can result and lead to type II diabetes. We can deduct that humans depending on week-end sleep recovery from weeks of short sleep may not be sufficient. Regular sleep patterns are essential for health. Regarding human studies (per Heller) “Most of these studies have reported a strong correlation between short sleep and Type 2 diabetes especially in men.”
Heller also says that the hormone Leptin, produced in fat tissue and an appetite suppressor, was decreased by 18%, and Ghrelin, produced in the stomach and an appetite stimulant, was increased by 28% in sleep deprivation research. My own estimate of these figures seems to indicate about a 46% “cumulative” increase in appetite stimulation from short sleep which could lead to obesity which certainly contributes to the “disease state” in more ways than diabetes.
We also know that the neurotransmitter, hypocretin or orexin (2 names) stimulates food intake circuits in the brain during prolonged wakefulness. We know from another study that “glucose tolerance after 5 nights of sleep restriction was down by 40%. All in all, there is pretty convincing evidence that sleep loss impairs how the body handles glucose and regulates appetite leading to long-lasting effects on metabolism and body mass. (Heller)
As I said earlier, we have mentioned on this blog before that immune system health is critical in prevention and healing from many diseases and certainly from cancer. Immune system cells in the blood are there to warn about and defend against unfriendly microorganisms. These immune system cells release chemical signals called cytokines. We talked about these signaling chemicals in our April 2013 posts when we talked about blood vessel walls being made porous which allowed excess plasma and proteins to leak from blood vessels and overwork the lymphatic system so that chronic inflammation occurred and the “unhealthy state” or “wet state” was established in tissue creating a “hotbed for malignancy”.
Research at Washington State University has shown that one action of these pro-inflammatory cytokines is to induce sleep which is indirect evidence that sleep has a role in protecting the body from microorganisms such as viruses, etc. Inflammatory responses are protective in the short run but damaging, as we have discussed, if unnaturally prolonged such as through persistent sleep deprivation and/or consistent toxin intake including stress. Chronic sleep loss (even if modest) leads to chronic inflammation because it stimulates pro-inflammatory cytokines in a chronic manner which, un-checked, lead to acute “dis-eases”.
C-reactive proteins or CRP (found in blood of people who eat lots of trans fats and/or have artery lining disease) is produced by the liver as response to pro-inflammatory cytokines. CRP is an acute phase inflammation protein meant to mark damaged cells for the immune system to eradicate. Again, short term, this is good, but long term it is damaging to tissues. The pro-inflammatory cytokines that stimulate CPR production increase with sleep loss and, therefore, CRP increases also. (Heller) Sleep deprivation promotes cardio-vascular disease in this way and certainly this disease is another indication of the “dis-ease or unhealthy state”.
NK cells or “Natural Killer Cells” are immune system cells that attack harmful cells like virus infected cells and tumor cells. In a study of healthy young men, their NK cell count decreased 73% after just one night of short sleep. It recovered after a full night’s recovery sleep the next night; however (as Dr. Heller says) “what if sleep is restricted for multiple days? That would be good for the virus infected cells or for the tumor cells!”
Dr. Craig Heller (Stanford University) also explains the impact of normal sleep on bone health, “Bones are continually being repaired and remodeled in response to use. Two types of cells are the yin and yang of this process. Cells called ‘osteoclasts’ are continually tearing down bone and cells called ‘osteoblasts’ are following the the wake of the osteoclasts to lay down new bone (osteoid). ….Obviously, a balance between the activities of osteoclasts and osteoblasts is critical..”
Heller continues by citing a study at Medical College of Wisconsin on long term sleep deprivation of rats which showed a 45-fold (not 45% but 45 times) reduction in bone lined by osteoid (new bone tissue) in comparison to control rats. “Bone density of the sleep deprived rats was much less than that of the control rats. Obviously these results do not argue well for bone health in repeatedly chronically sleep deprived rats or humans.” (Heller)
Dr. Heller also shares a study at Stanford (by Rolls) on hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Hematopoiesis is the natural generating of all different types of blood cells in the bone marrow. These HSCs migrate in and out of the bone marrow and, attracted to certain cell signals, develop into the various kinds of blood cells. This study “showed a pronounced decrease in the migration of the HSCs from the sleep deprived mice (as compared to the control mice who slept normally).
When the researcher checked the HSC count of sleep deprived mice given 2 hours of “recovery sleep”, the migratory abilities of the HSCs was completely restored. “Thus, very small changes in sleep amounts can have enormous changes in cellular properties of our hematopoietic system.” (Heller)
I found it fascinating that, as Dr. Heller relates, “Rolls (the researcher at Stanford) was also able to narrow down the sleep effect on HSC migration to the expression of a single gene in those cells. Interestingly, the expression of this gene is under control of growth hormone, a hormone that is specifically released during sleep and is suppressed by sleep deprivation.”
In short, sleep deprivation changed DNA resulting in messing with blood cell regeneration in bone marrow. As Shane Ellison (“The People’s Chemist) said in a recent eNewsletter, “..One thing is certain. Lack of DEEP sleep will shut off your DNA faster than most bad habits.” You can search www.thepeopleschemist.com . Ellison has developed a good herbal sleep aid called seratoninfx compounded from the herb, valerian root. He’s also the author of the book, Over the Counter Natural Cures. He gives the cancer chapter away as a pdf. I believe you can Google it. The chapter title is, “Avoid Cancer Now”.
If you want to investigate sleep further, here are some resources I used:
Professor H. Craig Heller, PhD (Stanford University), “Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders”, a series of university level lectures published and distributed by The Teaching Company under the label “The Great Courses” sub-topic “Health and Wellness”. I referenced lectures 13 and 22 of the 24 lectures in this fascinating. www.thegreatcourses.com
WebMD, “How Sleep Affects Cancer” sub-title “Poor Sleep Alters Hormones That Influence Cancer Cells” by Sid Kirchheimer, October 1, 2003. www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20031001/how-sleep-affects-cancer
Professor David Spiegel (Stanford University) “How Sleep Can Fight Cancer”, published online in MailOnline at link: www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-198096/How-sleep-fight-cancer.html
David Klein, Ph.D, Hygienic Doctor, “Know Your Self-healing Power! Use the Gift of Sleep to Get Well!” from Living Nutrition, vol 20. Posted on