Can the theory of epigenetics be linked to Naturopathic and Alternative Medicine?
Many of us have a history of diseases and illnesses that run in our family. I know I do. My family, along with many other families around the world, have a history of breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart attacks, which can be as close in lineage as a maternal aunt. To me, that is beyond frightening: that a family member only one generation from myself had developed and passed away from a cancer that spread throughout her whole body, all due to a defective gene. Why? What made my aunt so different?
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the “breast cancer genes” when they become nonfunctional. Normally, they repair breast tissue cell damage, but when the genetic machinery goes haywire, either due to environmental toxins, toxins within the body, or extensive stress, these regulation genes break down, resulting in the absence of regulation and increased growth of breast tissue, resulting in cancer. Although I may have the predisposition to having nonregulated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, does this mean that I am doomed to having breast cancer? According to epigenetics, not necessarily.
Epigenetics is the theory that the genome (genetic code) is influenced on a higher level, by DNA methylation or de-methylation, through the internal and external environment. It does not change the actual sequence of genes, but the expression of a gene segment or not. Well, how in the world would that happen? Generally speaking, if we want to express a gene and turn it into a protein, we would express certain DNA machinery (through histone proteins, promoters, regulators, etc) to make that happen, and vice versa to turn a gene off. So speaking from a naturopathic viewpoint, what we put into our bodies, the type of water that we drink, the way that we adapt to stress influences whether or not a certain gene is going to be turned on. For a more personal example, what I put into my body is going to influence my genetic code to promote or stop transcription and translation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which could eventually result into cancer.
Naturopathic medicine can really excel in this area. We can give hope to those patients who have predispositions of diseases that run in their family that they are preventable through serious and permanent lifestyle changes (buying a water or air purifier, experiencing nature, stress reduction mechanisms), healthy eating habits (organic fruits and vegetables), and overall promotion of well being, mind and body (spiritual practices, yoga, deep breathing exercises, meditation).