For decades, cancer diagnosis and treatment has focused on genetics. Based on the somatic theory of cancer, this approach looks at the mutations to the DNA which makes up our genes. We hear a lot about genetic mutations, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, for instance, which may pre-dispose one to breast cancer, however just 5-10% of cancers are attributed to such genetic mutations. What about the other 90-95% of cancers? How are they caused?
Your Genes are Not Your Destiny
We can’t change our genes, but the good news is that we can influence the way our genes are expressed. We now know that there are things which can turn gene expression on or off. This is the study of epigenetics. Epi means “on top of”, so epigenetics refers to those influences which are outside of or “on top of” our genes. Epigenetic discoveries are very hopeful. For one, it is now evident that there are ways for us to actively participate in our own health and healing.
We can now investigate epigenetic influences, such as diet, environment and lifestyle factors, and exposure to toxins, which may have influenced our gene expression and development of cancer. Looking ahead to implementing and maintaining a lifestyle that will promote healing and health, we can consider these same influences.
There are many things that anyone can do to improve their gene expression, and if you have cancer it would be of extra benefit to look at your specific gene profile to discover the best way to enhance your gene expression—turning on the helpful genes, and turning off the unhelpful ones. Establishing your gene profile through a 23andMe and/or a Nutrition Genome test will help with that effort.
Your Influence Makes a Real Difference
Many studies have been done which show how food interacts with our genes, and how our genes affect the function of our nutrients. We now know of many dietary and nutritional interventions which can help prevent or mitigate cancer as well as foods which promote the development of cancer.
Healthy animal proteins such as pastured, organic meat, organ meats, chicken, eggs, sardines and wild salmon, along with particular vegetables, are some of the most important foods for promoting methylation, an important epigenetic process which marks our genes and promotes the detoxification of the body.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, arugula, mustard greens, and radishes, along with various mushrooms, green tea, and curcumin have shown to have a protective effect on our genes.
On the other hand, some substances, such as sugar and genetically modified foods can damage our genes. Sugar increases DNA damage and inflammation. GM foods have been shown to cause changes to DNA as well.
Once we know your gene profile, we can fine tune your nutrition, adding in nutrient dense food which will support the health of your body and removing those foods and substances which may damage your DNA.
Bishop KS, Ferguson LR. The interaction between epigenetics, nutrition and the development of cancer. Nutrients. 2015 Jan 30;7(2):922-47. doi: 10.3390/nu7020922. PMID: 25647662; PMCID: PMC4344568.