According to widely accepted medical wisdom, an overweight man who smokes, drinks too much alcohol and has a family history of heart disease runs a high risk of developing the illness himself. As well, scientists have concluded that smokers stand a much greater risk of developing lung cancer than nonsmokers. But now, a respected British researcher has registered an alternative theory. In a recently published book, Hans Eysenck writes that some postulations about the causes of cancer and heart disease are overly simplistic. In Smoking, Personality and Stress, Eysenck, a professor of psychology at the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, contends that personality and stress are at least as significant as smoking and diet in causing cancer and heart disease. Writes Eysenck: “Personality and stress appear to be six times as important as smoking in the statistical correlation between disease and risk factors.” In one of his studies, Eysenck, who neither
drinks nor smokes, divided 1,353 people between the ages of 50 and 70 into four groups. Type 1 people are those who tend to depend on someone else for their happiness, and who feel stress because of their inability to cope with that dependence. Type 2 people experience stress and anger because they feel that a person on whom they are “helplessly dependent” is making them unhappy. Type 3 alternates between the feelings of Type 1 and 2, while Type 4 people do not allow themselves to become overly dependent on others.
An examination of mortality rates 10 years later produced dramatic findings. More than 46 per cent of Type 1 people had died of cancer, compared with 5.6 per cent of Type 2 and less than two per cent of types 3 and 4. Nearly 30 per cent of Type 2 died of heart disease, compared with 8.3 per cent of Type 1, 9.2 per cent of Type 3 and 1.7 per cent of Type 4.
Because after 10 years almost 91 per cent of the Type 4 individuals were still alive, Eysenck suggests that a person can influence their fate by learning to better cope with stress. But some specialists say that Eysenck’s theories are flawed. Said Louis Siminovitch, director of the Samuel Lunenfeld Medical Research Institute at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital: “The link between smoking and cancer and smoking and heart disease has been validated over and over again.” Still, Eysenck’s findings indicate that those diseases may involve intangible factors that some scientists may have overlooked.
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