When The Going Gets Tough, Maybe You Should Quit
Are there times when it is better to simply give up? Psychologists have been exploring this question, and more specifically a possible link between tenacity and both physical and mental health.
It would seem that persistence would be tonic over the long haul; hanging tough should increase the odds that you’ll succeed, and personal success is closely linked to well-being. But what if the goal is extremely unlikely? When does an admirable trait like perseverance start to look more like beating your head against the wall?
To test this in the laboratory, psychologists Gregory Miller and Carsten Wrosch developed a psychological instrument that can reliably distinguish between people who when faced with a difficult goal either persist or let go of it. In a series of experiments, the psychologists exhaustively studied these two personality types to see how healthy and well adjusted they are.
In their most recent study, published in the September issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the psychologists followed teenagers for a full year. Over that time, individuals who did not persist obtaining hard to reach goals had much lower levels of a protein called CRP [C-reactive protein], an indicator of bodily inflammation. Inflammation has recently been linked to several serious diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
Well, is it really surprising that there are health benefits associated with having a more easy going, "laid back" personality?
There's a very good book that delves into this in great detail – Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, by Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky. (Quick summary is here.)
And while we're on the subject, there's this press release that just came out:
Relationship Between Environmental Stress And Cancer Elucidated
One way environmental stress causes cancer is by reducing the activity level of an enzyme that causes cell death, researchers say.
They found that stress-inducing agents, such as oxidative stress, recruit a protein called SENP1 that cuts a regulator called SUMO1 away from the enzyme SIRT1 so its activity level drops, says Dr. Yonghua Yang, postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Kapil Bhalla, director of the MCG Cancer Center.
This fundamental finding about the relationship between stress and cancer opens the door for treatments that increase SENP1 activity, making it easier for cells that are becoming cancerous to die.
In yet another example of how deeply interrelated different biological processes are, it's worth noting that SIRT1 is a HDAC enzyme, whose activity seems to be enhanced by both resveratrol and calorie restriction. By mechanisms that are still somewhat mysterious, this in turn may be beneficial for longevity. If indeed oxidative stress has the effect of decreasing SIRT1 activity and hence promoting cancer, this may help explain at least some of the longevity benefit of SIRT1.
Tags: stress, inflammation, SIRT1, sirtuins, cancer
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