It’s not the genes; it’s what you expose them to.

Following Angelina Jolie’s widely publicized decision to remove her breasts “preventively”, few folks truly understand how important preventing environmental chemical exposures and incorporating cancer-preventing foods into their diet really is in reducing the risk of gene-mediated breast cancer.

There is a lot of fear and misinformation surrounding the ‘Breast Cancer Associated’ genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. It should help to dispel some myths by looking at the crucial role that epigenetic factors play in their expression. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression and looks at how factors such as environmental chemical exposures, nutrition and stress affect the expression of the genes. Science is finding that is not so much the genes you have, but how they expressed as a result of your lifestyle and environment.

In 2012, a very important study was published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry that looked at the role a natural compound called resveratrol may play in preventing the inactivation of the BRCA-1 gene. BRCA-1 is known as a “caretaker” gene because it is responsible for healing up double-strand breaks within our DNA. When the BRCA-1 gene is rendered dysfunctional or becomes inactivated, either through a congenital inheritance of DNA defects (‘mutation’) or through chemical exposures, the result is the same: harm to the DNA repair mechanisms within the affected cells which increases the risk of cancer (particularly breast and ovary; possibly testicular).

The prevalence of a “bad” inherited BRCA1 variation is actually quite low relative to the general population (A 2003 study found only 6.6% of breast cancer patients have either a BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutation). However, everyone’s BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are susceptible to damage from environmental chemical exposures, most particularly xenobiotic (non-natural) chemicals and radiation. This means that instead of looking to a set of “bad” genes as the primary cause of cancer, we should be looking to avoid exposing both our “bad” and “good” genes alike to preventable chemical exposures, as well as avoiding nutrient deficiencies and/or incompatibilities, which also play a vital role in enabling us to express or silence cancer-associated genes.

If you need help finding out how to reduce everyday toxin exposure or how to help your body detoxify more effectively, please let us know.