Environment. Genes. Nurture. Nature. Age-old questions.
Last night, I landed on a cool interview, Ghost in Your Genes, with Dr. Jean-Pierre Issa on PBS.org. The topic: epigenetics and cancer.
Issa's interview offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how genes and environmental stimuli interact and how this relates to cancer and aging. Here's the introduction to Dr. Issa's interview:
"For decades, scientists and doctors assumed that cancer was caused by irreversible damage to some critical stretch of DNA within one's genome. But in the last few years, a much more complex picture has emerged, one that shows that some cancers are caused by epigenetic changes—tiny chemical tags that accumulate over time and can turn genes on or off. Unlike genetic damage, epigenetic changes can sometimes be reversed, and with treatments that are far less toxic to the patient."
Dr. Issa explains genetic damage (environmental exposures, radiation, cigarettes, etc.) and how this paves the way for cancer, and he also explores how epigenetic therapy can "change the instructions of the cancer cells" rather than killing the cells.
How can we "change the instructions" of cells that are up to mischief and worse? Energy and information or E&I as my friend, Dr. Rodier likes to say. Food and supplemental nutrients have energy and information. Cells in our bodies have energy and information to exchange and receptors for energy and information from other cells.
At the cellular level, changing the instructions in a rogue cell (cancer cell) can be likened to creating a paradigm shift in a culture or an organization or a person. Change the way an organism pays attention (is programmed) and behavior can change.
Yes, it's still a pharmaceutical intervention that Dr. Issa is researching. Nevertheless, epigenetic medicine offers a more optimistic promise than the old "search and destroy" military paradigm of conventional cancer treatments -- which have by all statistical measures have failed to win the "war on cancer."
While I am naturally biased toward nutritional approaches to healing, I am ultimately an "integrative medicine" advocate rather than a strict "alternative medicine" activist. Not everyone has the will or the emotional support to maintain complete dietary and lifestyle overhauls required to beat cancer naturally. I can think of many people whom I love dearly who fall into this category.
Thus, I think anything that can dramatically reduce the toxicity of conventional cancer treatments, leave more normal cells intact and healthy, and offer complete remissions in almost half of the patients receiving treatment is worthy of more study.