Many people believe that they are completely defined, limited and even imprisoned by the deck of genetic cards they were
dealt at birth. You often hear people exclaim that because their parents or grandparents had diabetes, heart disease or some form of cancer, they would be likely to develop the same problems. It’s even worse when people discover that they have some genetic predisposition, like the ‘BRCA’ gene in women that may possibly cause them to develop breast cancer. This makes these women feel like they have no choice but to opt for some medical intervention that can compromise their health or be they may even be coerced into surrendering their vital body parts to surgical mutilation for fear of what “may” happen.
The study of how our diet, stress management abilities and exercise levels affect our genetic expression is called epigenetics. It is this relatively new field of science that clearly demonstrates that we are most definitely NOT at the mercy of our genetic inheritance and we can take steps – easily, simply and sustainably - to protect our health.
Diet and Epigenetics
Routine, healthy lifestyle choices - especially plant-based, whole-food nutrition, stress management techniques and physical activity can dramatically alter how genes function and may reduce our physical deterioration, and morbidity from heart disease, cancer, immune disorders, and depression while even slowing down the aging process. Conversely, risky lifestyle choices can ultimately promote similar disease and breakdown in different people regardless of their genetic backgrounds. Examples of this are the growing pandemics of obesity, heart disease, colon and reproductive cancers in Japan, China and other parts of Asia, which did not exist when those people were eating more of their ancestral, plant-based diets. However as these people continue to saturate their diets with more animal protein, saturated fat, dairy products and refined sugar - similar to people in Western nations - they continue to develop the same devastating chronic diseases despite their obvious genetic differences from non-Asians living in the West.
Remember: Research is showing time and again that a plant-based whole-foods diet is the safest, most health-promoting way to eat. There are plenty of resources on the internet that you can refer to if you’d like to know more about transitioning to this way to eating.
Stress and Epigenetics
Stress management techniques promote well-established epigenetic effects on genes associated with disease and aging. There are repeating units of DNA (telomeres) at the ends of chromosomes that protect and stabilise chromosomes and genes during the process of cell division and growth. These telomeres are like the hard cap (aglet) at the end of shoelaces that protect the shoelace from fraying and falling apart. However, these telomere caps shorten and are worn away by the cumulative effects of cell division as a cell ages and moves toward death. A good way of conceptualising this is if you imagine taking a photocopy of a photocopy – repeatedly - and how the image degrades over time. The enzyme ‘telomerase’ is responsible for the lengthening of telomeres when our DNA is replicated during the growth and repair of cells. And, the shortening of telomeres and a reduction in telomerase are associated with ageing.
Chronic stress promotes shortening of telomeres and a decrease in the activity of the enzyme telomerase. Telomere length and telomerase activity were measured in white blood cells of mothers taking care of chronically ill children and compared to mothers of healthy children. The longer a woman spent looking after a sick child the more stressed she was and the shorter were her telomeres. In the most stressed out women, their telomere shortening and decreased telomerase activity suggested that they had aged at least ten years more than the least stressed women of similar chronological age.
The good news is that the practice of even short periods of routine meditation and stress management activity can dramatically reduce the impact of stress, improve mental health, and reduce the genetic aging process. In one recent experiment, caregivers of dementia patients suffering with symptoms of depression had significant increases in telomerase activity following just 12 minutes of daily meditation for 8 weeks. This increase in telomerase activity was accompanied by improvement of mental and cognitive function as well as a decrease in the symptoms of depression.
Take home message: Visit RelaxationResponse.org/steps for complete (and free) instructions for how to do Dr Herbert Benson’s “Relaxation Response” meditation. It is the most thoroughly scientifically studied form of meditation that has been shown time and again to improve health on all levels, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – and reverse ageing in various ways including the lengthening of our telomeres.
Exercise and Epigenetics
Exercise creates an epigenetic effect with respect to our metabolism. This can improve both muscle growth and stamina. Exercise has also been shown to promote the genetic production of chemicals that stabilise telomeres and slow down the aging process. Therefore, people who exercise more consistently are more likely to decrease the shortening of their telomeres and have telomeres that are less ravaged by time and aging compared to people who are more sedentary.
In a 2013 study, women who participated in 129 minutes of exercise a week for 6 months, compared to women doing just 21 minutes per week, had 43 genes that showed significant changes. Three of these genes were directly correlated with an increased survival from breast cancer. Patients who exercised longer had a greater expression of tumor suppressor genes, resulting in more than a 60% reduction in the risk of breast cancer death compared to the limited exercise group.
Take home message:
Exercise regularly and mix it up: weight and resistance training, walking and mind/body work – including yoga, tai chi, qigong are all wonderful genetic manipulators!
Finally - Your genetic blueprint can predispose you to any number of positive and negative conditions and changes. But what you choose to do, and the environment that you create on a routine basis in your life, goes a long way to determining how your genetic background expresses itself and whether any of your negative predispositions become concrete outcomes. You don’t have to drown in your own gene pool!
Visit the British Society for Lifestyle Medicine (BSLM.info) for great information on all aspects of healthy living and holistic anti-ageing, and information about how to train to become a BSLM Lifestyle Medicine Consultant.
Over the last few months The CMA website has covered a number of articles which have looked at recent research on cancer and various complementary medical and natural healthcare approaches.
The most recent (as at March 2013) 10 articles looked at:
Folic Acid Supplementation and Cancer?
Research, published in The Lancet, has looked at whether the concerns over supplementation with Folic Acid are valid.
WHO Study Admits Household Chemicals Cause Range of Health Issues, (Cancer, Birth Defects)
The World Health Organization (WHO) says a host of common, everyday household chemicals pose severe health problems including cancer, asthma, reduced fertility and even birth defects according to a recent study.
Doctors Identify 5 Key Practices They Do That Are ‘Questionable’
An article in the BMJ highlights an initiative developed by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, which has set up the Choosing Wisely initiative. Under this initiative doctors from 17 individual medical organisations have each produced a list of 5 practices that they believe are “questionable”.
Health of People in the UK; Worse Than In Other Countries?
The Lancet has looked at data from a 20 year period which shows that when it comes to improvements in their health – people in the UK are lagging behind progress made by people in similar countries
Low Vitamin D levels Linked to Risk of Breast Cancer
Research published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control suggests that finding low vitamin D levels in young women may actually predict a high risk for breast cancer.
Colon Cancer and Carbohydrate Consumption
Research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has shown that a diet that is high in carbohydrates may increase the risks of death (and recurrence) in people who have colon cancer.
Mammograms: Controversy Continues
A study has looked at 30 years of US Government data before arguing that around 1 million of the 3 million US women who were told they had breast cancer after a routine mammogram inspection were ‘over-diagnosed’.
Mistletoe and Cancer Patients
A pilot trial using an extract of mistletoe, has shown that, when taken by gastric cancer patients who were receiving adjuvant oral chemotherapy, the remedy is not only safe but also improved their health and reduced the rate of diarrhea in gastric cancer patients receiving adjuvant oral chemotherapy.
Cancer: Exercise Reduces Tiredness
An updated review of the effects of exercise on tiredness amongst cancer sufferers, has again shown that aerobic exercise can help relieve the fatigue often associated with cancer and cancer treatment.
Vegetarian Diet Helps Prevent Cancer's Ability to Grow
Researchers have found that not only does a vegetarian diet help to fight cancer, but that it may also be able to block a cancer's ability to grow.
As always in the CMA e-Newsleter, we report on a diverse range of latest global natural health news - often scooping the national press. So - if you want to stay ahead of the game - and make sure that you are totally up to date with the latest developments in the natural health field - please ensure that you sign up to receive this monthly e-Newsletter.
This month we cover:
In a Fight? Homeopathy vs Conventional Medicine for Those Suffering From Musculoskeletal Disorders. Who Wins?
Healing Touch and Child Cancer
Naturopathy Effective in Treating Type 2 Diabetes Patients
Thai Massage Helps Stroke PatientsHigher Antioxidant Value in Organic Tomatoes
Omega-3 – at up to 5g a day - Supplementation Given “Thumbs Up” By the European Food safety Authority
Any Exercise Is Better Than None - Olympic Athletes and Nutrition
Hawthorn Lowers Cholesterol - Botanical Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease
How Cancer Cells “Live Forever”
How Flatworms Defy Ageing
Coffee Alleviates Some of the Effects of Parkinson’s
High Fructose Corn Syrup Condemned Again: Fructose Induces Transketolase Flux to Promote Pancreatic Cancer Growth
High Fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Cancer Cell Growth:
You can read the study here
High fructose corn syrup is made from corn and yet the corn lobby "The Corn Refiners Association" countered the study's findings by stating:
"This study does not look at the way fructose is actually consumed by humans, as it was conducted in a laboratory, not inside the human body," and they concluded that the root causes of pancreatic cancer are complicated and poorly understood.
Jayney Goddard is one of the world's leading experts in the field of complementary medicine and natural healthcare. Her passion is natural anti-ageing; Jayney teaches people how to rewind their biological clocks so that they are more resilient to the diseases of ageing. The strategies Jayney uses are grounded in excellent science and have been shown to halt and even reverse those conditions we associate with ageing.