Conventional wisdom believes that cancer is a genetic disease, caused by genetic mutation. For centuries, the scientific literature has proclaimed, that our health was defined by our genes; also known as genetic determinism.
After decades of scientific breakthroughs, we are now entering a period in time where we will truly explore how our lifestyles, nutrition, the air we breathe and even how our thoughts and emotions affect our genetic expression – and how they can produce malignant cells, without changing the DNA itself. But, more importantly, the coming age will open our mind to how unfavorable genetic expression, that cause diseases are, in theory and practice, also reversible. The study of how environmental information is translated into gene expression is called epigenetics.
Every cell in human body contains the same DNA, but the information found in the genes are not always readable. A process known as epigenetic methylation enables individual genes to be read or not.
While researchers have known that DNA mutations cause disease, the new science of epigenetics has become crucial to understanding its cause because abnormal patterns of epigenetic methylation are found in all types of tumours.
Epigenetics: Histone Modification and DNA Methylation
According to Bruce Lipton, a scientific pioneer in the field of epigenetics and author of the book “The Biology of Belief”, it’s important not to neglect the roles of protein in the chromosome because DNA is only half of it, while the other half is comprised of protein. He explains, “Scientists were focused on the DNA, and threw away the protein – epigenetics says this protein is doing something,” Lipton says that the core of chromosome is DNA, but it is covered with a protein sleeve. An environmental signal will cause the protein sleeve to detach from the DNA, through epigenetic methylation, which enables certain genes to be read. When the environmental signal is removed, the protein sleeve returns to its previous state – attached to the DNA, effectively hiding the data.  This process is referred to as histone modification.
In addition to histone modifications, genes are also known to be regulated by a form of epigenetic modification that directly affects one base of the DNA, namely the base C. This process is referred to as DNA Methylation. The four bases are namely Adenine, Thymine, Guanine ad Cytosine. This process is executed as small molecules of carbon and hydrogen bind to this base and allow certain genes to be turned on and off, or to ‘dim’ their activity. It is estimated that roughly 75 million, or one in ten, of the Cs in the human genome are methylated. 
Abnormal patterns of gene methylation exist in all types of tumours, but it is has been difficult to determine if those patterns trigger tumours or are triggered by tumours. “In genetics you can easily delete a gene and see what the consequence is, but it’s much harder to direct methylation to specific regions of the genome,” according to Lanlan Shen, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics-Nutrition of Baylor College of Medicine, Texas. 
To tackle the problem, Shen and her team of researchers used an innovative method, by inserting a naturally occurring sequence of DNA, called methylation magnet; its main function is to draw in the protein sleeve to cover up a favorable gene. This sequence was inserted next to p16, an important cancer suppression gene, in mouse embryonic stem cells. The rodents were monitored for 18 months. Over this period, 30% of the mice developed tumours in liver, colon, spleen, and colon. On the other hand, a control group of identical mice did not develop tumours. In other words, the epigenetic changes, that prevented a favorable gene to be expressed, predisposed the tissue to tumor development.
Lifestyles and Nutrition Are Important Factors
Since epigenetic changes do trigger cancer, there are several potential ways to reverse the unfavorable gene expression, which researchers around the world are now actively exploring.
Shen explains, “We can use different approaches to reverse methylation – turning back on silenced genes – and see whether we can prevent the tumours from occurring or treat the cancer after it has appeared. The coolest thing from an environmental perspective is that we can ask whether diet can influence this epigenetic process.” She noted a 2012 study which suggest that proper dietary supplements, is one environmental factor, that can help produce favorable gene expressions. 
Lipton also believes that positive lifestyles and a better nutritional control can produce epigenetic expressions that heal the body. He highlights a 2008 study which showed how nutritional and lifestyle effects demonstrated positive epigenetic mechanism to enable the required genetic expression to remove unwanted cancers. 
And, thankfully the mainstream research community is now working hard to bridge the gap, beyond the limitations of our past understandings, to make more meaningful connections between nutrition, lifestyles and epigenetics.
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