The term “epigenetics” is a buzzword these days in health circles. This is a good thing since the term calls into question the age-old conventional that “your DNA is your destiny.” But what exactly is epigenetics and, more importantly, how does it factor in when considering your risk for breast cancer?
At least as far as we know so far based on scientific study, the genetic “blueprint” you are born with stays basically the same throughout your life. Finding out what kind of genetic dispositions, such as the very common MTHFR gene mutation which can affect the way a person converts nutrients to energy, can be helpful. But let’s get one thing clear. Genetic disposition is not the only factor to consider if you want to prevent breast cancer. In fact, it may not even be the most important thing!
The study of epigenetics looks at the ways environmental factors influence gene expression. If your genetics are your unique “blueprint” for health, epigenetic factors could be thought of as the architects that bring that blueprint to life. Some of the conditions that can negatively influence gene expression and even turn off cancer-protective genes could include:
-toxins in the air, soil and water
-GMO, pesticide-laden and highly-processed “dead food” we eat.
-stress caused by external circumstances, such as traumatic events or chronic stress
-EMFs or electro-pollution emitted by close-range cell phone use, cell towers, SMART meters, Wi-Fi routers and more
-stressors within the body such as gut imbalances
-lack of sleep
-negative thoughts and beliefs.
Use Epigenetics for Your Health
While outside factors such as lifestyle choices can increase your breast cancer risk, you can also use epigenetics to your advantage to avoid breast cancer. Any positive lifestyle changes you make will in turn have a positive effect on your health and reduce your cancer risk. But with a little knowledge, you can also “hack” your own DNA to boost certain biological mechanisms that can further protect you from breast cancer.
For example, studies have found that diets high in substances called “methyl donors” can prevent cancer-causing genes from activating. Research has also shown that breast cancer prevention is dependent on maintaining healthy methylation, a vital component of metabolism. This is because methylation also affects how your body breaks down estrogen. Imbalances in estrogen breakdown are often key components to the development of reproductive cancers.
Some common foods that are considered “methyl donors” include garlic, onions, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, bok choy and radishes. According to experts, there are also specific supplements and herbs you can take to boost healthy methylation, including B12, folic acid and ashwaghanda.
Clearing up the BCRA Gene Myth
Another common belief is that women with the BCRA 1 and 2 gene mutation are literally “doomed” to get breast cancer. But did you know that according to studies conducted by the US Preventative Services Task Force, only between 2 and 5 % of all women with a strong family history of breast cancer may test positive for the mutation?
What may come as even more of a surprise is that even if a BCRA gene mutation is found, this does not mean that breast cancer is imminent. The fact is that there are dozens of different kinds of BCRA gene mutations and some of them can actually reduce the risk of breast cancer. For example, the BRCA1 variation K1 183R was shown in a 2011 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco to have a protective effect against the dis-ease.
Why would the public be left in the dark about the REAL facts regarding BRCA? Sadly, it may all come down to dollars. After Hollywood celebrity Angelina Jolie announced her double mastectomy in 2013 because of a family history of BCRA mutation and breast cancer, stock in the company Myriad Genetics (who hold the patents for BRCA1/BRCA2) soared significantly.
Knowledge about Epigenetics Equals Patient Empowerment
Researcher is discovering more and more ways in which our genetic expression is linked to external factors through epigenetics, and this is shedding new light on how much each one of us can affect our health, both positively and negatively. “Epi” means “above” or “over”—meaning that we actually do have more power over our DNA than we know!
Remember that your DNA is not your destiny, whatever your genetic dispositions. Gaining information about your genetic blueprint is good knowledge to have, if you have the time and resources to invest in this. But is it necessary in all cases? Certainly not. Make good choices that will support healthy genetic expression and “program” your own body for breast cancer prevention as well as vibrant health all around!