Epigenetics and Cancer Prevention: How lifestyle choices impact DNA


One of the most interesting, really fascinating aspects of our understanding about cancer is a concept called, epigenetics. You’re probably thinking “Epi – what???”

Epigenetics is a fantastic way to help us understand why our lifestyle – what we eat, how much we move or don’t move, how much we sleep, even how we think – affects our risk of cancer. Here’s an analogy.

Let’s say you have a book – a manual of some sort. In it, there are going to be certain pages that you paper clip because you do not want to read the pages in between the paper clips. They are not really relevant to want you want out of this book. Then there are other pages that you add post-it notes. These are the pages that you will keep referencing. You will not see the instructions where there are paper clips. So, these instructions will not be actuated into activity. On the other hand, the post-it note pages you will go back to again and again.

It turns out that our DNA, the place where all the instructions for our cellular behavior reside, gets its own set of paper-clips and post-it notes placed on it. (Not literally, figuratively speaking). What dictates where these paper-clips and post-it notes are placed is our lifestyle influences. For example, the food we eat is actually information. The information we get from the food determines where the post-it notes and paper clips are placed along our DNA. This translates to certain sections of our DNA instruction being read a lot and certain parts of our DNA instruction never being read.

From a cancer perspective, if we put paper-clips on the part of the DNA that reads for tumor progression, then we will not read those DNA and we will have a preventive effect. On the other hand, if we put post-it notes on the part of our DNA that reads for cell repair and tumor suppression we are going to read those instructions a lot and that too will contribute to cancer prevention. That understanding of epigenetics has really helped us understand why the strategies of lifestyle – diet, movement, environment, rejuvenation and spirit – are so impactful all the way down to a DNA level and literally influence the expression of our genome towards health and away from disease.