The pioneering work of Otto Warburg in the 1930s showed that cancer cells need a highly specific set of biochemical conditions to thrive. In the 1990s, the brilliant biochemist, Mina Bissel, named it the tumour microenvironment, and showed that it is a key factor in breast cancer development. Unfortunately our modern lives, filled with high stress levels, environmental chemicals, uncontrolled inflammation, disregulated hormones and depleted diets are pretty good at creating that precise toxic bath, and some of us are genetically less suited to this brave new world. Nutrigenomics can target the areas which are more problematic for you.
Long before Watson and Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA, cancer was viewed as a genetic disease. However, as we begin our exploration of the genome (yes, it really is just beginning), the focus on genetic mutations in cancer is giving way to a wider understanding that epigenetics – the study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work – may be a more influential factor. Moreover, the work of researcher Michael Fenech shows that gene damage from macronutrient imbalances and micronutrient deficiencies is just as dangerous as exposure to X-rays when it comes to genetic damage. This emerging understanding puts nutrition and nutrigenomics centre stage.
The ability for nutrigenomics to support DNA synthesis and repair, and remethylation of the genome makes it an ideal choice for patients who are going through standard medical treatment and recovering from cancer. It is, however, important to recognise that nutrigenomics may be incompatible with long term chemotherapy regimes.
For me, nutrigenetics is not just an add-on test to include in a nutritional therapy consultation, it forms the foundation of my work. The science of ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ seems to me uniquely applicable to breast cancer. I believe it’s helpful for everyone dealing with cancer but especially so when cancer comes ‘out of the blue’. Understanding where your DNA differs from the norm provides an exciting level of personalisation that can make all the difference to your recovery plans. Understanding your nutrigenomics not only makes your nutrition protocol more effective, it makes it safer too. Nutrigenetics can even guide your treatment choices, and pinpoint the areas you need to focus on to improve your health in the longer term. DNA testing can make sure your recovery plan is designed to work with your body and not against it. Although the work is highly technical it still sits in that magical place that supplies the raw materials that your body needs, honours the way your body works, and then stands back and allows healing to happen.
Food is at the heart of this transformation but it’s not all about what we put in our mouths. The Power Flower pictured below shows the different areas we need to consider if we want to change our health for the better. These key ‘interfaces’ are closely linked to cancer onset and recurrence, and supporting them is an important part of recovery. All health problems, but particularly cancer, can be supported by considering the five petals in turn.
THE POWER OF NATURAL HEALING
- MINDSET is the starting point for recovery because the first step on the journey is believing you can survive, no matter what your prognosis, and stubbornly maintaining that faith in yourself and your cells as you go through the different stages of cancer treatment and beyond. Our mindset is profoundly affected by the quality of our diet but it is primarily created by the thoughts we allow ourselves to think. Genetic variants and SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) significantly affect your mood and sleep patterns, your stress response and your ability to be calm and collected. Learning how to support these pathways can make life feel so much better.
- Despite being a nutritional therapist I think of FOOD as sharing importance with the other areas in the POWER FLOWER. There are no hard lines between the different petals – the quality of each one influences all the others – but without a good diet we can never enjoy good health. Some of us need to take more care than others, especially in the first few years after diagnosis as we reboot our bodies after cancer and the rigours of treatment. Understanding your SNPs (tiny variations in your DNA) can be a valuable way to build a diet that matches your needs more closely, improving health and reducing the risk of recurrence.
- Hippocrates famously said that all disease starts in the GUT. For a start, our digestive function determines how much of our careful diet we can use, but more importantly the microbes that live in our gut (and live on our leftovers) have also been shown to be directly linked to cancer onset and survival. Their combined genes exert a powerful influence in the body. Genetic variants impact the way our gut functions and the quality of our microbiota, stool testing provides further insights into optimal health.
- Your ENVIROME is describes the collective impact our natural, social and personal environment and the effect on your biochemistry. It includes the places where we live, work, and play; the chemicals and toxins we are exposed to; our air, water and soil quality; the and also our relationships and social connections.The way we live our lives has a massive impact on our health and dietary requirements and our SNPs help to explain why some people seem to ‘get away with’ unhealthy habits more than others. This area is closely linked to genetic stability and DNA damage and forms an important part of recovery.
- Last but not least, advances in science mean we are learning how to support the health and expression of our DNA. This area is at the core of my practice and goes to the heart of cancer recovery. Genes are often talked about as being a cause of cancer, and genetic malfunctions are often considered to be irreversible. In our work together I want to show you how to get your genes back on your side. How to nurture the health of your DNA, how to encourage optimal gene expression, and how to use nutrigenomics to support the genes that may be causing health problems for you.
I’ve noticed how often when health problems emerge, some people will double down on diet improvements, or exercise regimes, but may fail to consider their microbiome. By taking all of these areas into account we can be more holistic in our approach and avoid becoming obsessive in any one area.
DNA testing adds an unrivalled layer of personalisation to your cancer protocol; the test is done at home with a simple cheek swab. Nutrigenomics provides an understanding of your personal risks and vulnerabilities which helps us to tailor a unique protocol for you. These areas correspond with the Power Flower, looking at more than 150 SNPS that cover the key breast cancer risks.
THE POWER OF INTEGRATED ONCOLOGY
The growing body of research that looks at integrated oncology protocols (those that include both conventional and complementary medicine) confirms that diet and lifestyle are important at all stages of the cancer experience, from onset and diagnosis, through treatment and into recovery. Cancer patients desperately need to know that they can get involved in their own recovery. Natural healing can really make a difference; in many cases it makes all the difference. Thankfully, organisations like Radical Remission exist to remind us that we can heal even when medicine tells us ‘there’s nothing more we can do’.
The ability to heal is a power that you were born with, and it never leaves you. My role is help you regain that power – to join the dots between cancer, nutrigenomics and the power of natural healing, and put you back in charge of your health and happiness. I hope you will consult a wide range of experts, including your doctor and oncologist, but also recognise that they are not in charge. It’s your body, your choice, and your life. Every step of the way.
NB It’s worth pointing out that not all DNA testing offers the same value. Firstly, not all DNA testing is equally rigorous, both the research and the analysis can be mis-reported or over-interpreted – the quality of the lab you use is key. Secondly, although DNA testing is the ultimate in personalisation the value is only really harvested when someone (human) applies the knowledge to your health situation through the lens of clinical experience and makes the vital connection between groups of genes, rather than simply reporting them one at a time. As a result, I believe the analysis I provide is unique: uniquely rigorous, uniquely layered, and uniquely focussed.