Study results: Suppressed tumor growth via environmental enrichment
This report supports the findings of earlier studies showing that rats living in a more “complex” (interesting/varied) home environment were less anxious, more curious, and more quickly conquered mazes. From the earlier studies scientists had a general idea that the places in which we live and work could positively influence our mood, increase our health, activity interest, and even our performance at tasks. Why that happened was less clear until this more recent study.
To test the breadth of influence that environment had on disease, the scientists in this study used mice that had both melanoma and colon cancer. The results with either type of tumor were similar; both groups showed tumor suppression and survival as a result of the enhanced living environment.
Rats in the control group – the ones left in the ordinary lab environment – did not do as well. But the mice stimulated by a more complex living environment experienced significant body changes:
- Levels of BDNF – short for Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor – an expression of the gene encoding in the brain’s hypothalamus.
- Plasma levels of the adipokine leptin.
How this study relates to humans and their environments
You can test this theory, and probably have. Have you ever noticed that, after leaving a highly stressful living environment or job for one that is less stressful or more enjoyable and stimulating, your overall enjoyment of life improves? Or that, after switching to a new and better job, you find that your health and sense of well-being gets a boost? If so, then you can see how your lifestyle/environment may be causing brain changes that may be influencing your physical health and mood. That environment change, which influences your BDNF levels, could similarly change chemical levels in your body, resulting in suppressed tumor growth.
Even if we cannot yet conclude 100 percent that social circumstances influence human health to the extent that tumor growth can be suppressed and cancer survival rate improved, putting yourself in a more complex, stimulating environment can surely be physically and mentally beneficial, as earlier studies have shown:
- A stimulating social network is better for you than a socially isolated environment, as shown in a study in which rats experienced increased mammary tumors.
- Chronic stress that you cannot control increases tumor progression, according to this similar study.
Whether or not the hypothalamic BDNF triggers hormonal events that regulate tumor progression, as the study scientists believe, stimulating your environment and participating socially in life is a good gamble to take. It’s certainly has less risk than trying to improve your health with an untested drug; the only known side effects of enhancing your environment are all positive.