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Can We Really Control Our Genetics?

My husband is a smart man. (Sometimes, he’s too smart for his own good.) However, when it comes to anything science, he is my go-to man. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my early thirties, he said a quote to me that has stuck with me ever since. “Our genetics load the gun, but our environment pulls the trigger.” What does this mean? Let’s take a look . . .

Human DNA is the genetic make-up that makes you, you. It influences our physical traits like skin tone, whether your hair is curly or straight, or whether you can curl your tongue or not. It also dictates all of the processes that take place inside your body. Sometimes, those processes are good. Sometimes, those processes are bad. Many times, it depends whether certain genes are “turned on” or “turned off”. For example, it would be entirely inappropriate for a skin cell to have genes “turned on” that controlled the function of a liver cell. That would just screw everything up. The branch of genetic research that studies whether genes are “turned on” or “turned off” is called epigenetics. Sometimes, genes are either turned on or turned off abnormally. When the genes of a cell function abnormally, one of the results is cancer. So what makes a gene turn on or turn off abnormally?

dna

Often times, people view cancer as a genetically inherited disease. But, many times, people that develop cancer have no family history. So then, what’s the cause? In these cases, we have to look at environmental factors. That’s right! Our environment can cause cancer. One of the best examples is that too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer. But, there are other environmental causes too. Radiation. Environmental toxins. Chemical food additives. Pollution. Even something as simple as too much stress or too little sleep can alter the way that our genes function. We may not be able to control every influence on our genes, but there are some aspects of our lives that we can definitely control.

When I say genetics load the gun, I mean that we are all predisposed to certain types of health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or arthritis. When we expose ourselves to the environmental factors, our chances of the gun firing increase.

Fork of footpath and feet of going person

Obviously, we can’t change our genetics. But, we can change our exposure to some – if not most – of the environmental factors. Instead of eating highly processed and chemically enhanced “food”, perhaps we should be eating real food. Instead of drinking out of plastic containers, drink out of glass, stainless steel, or ceramic. Instead of lying in a tanning bed, embrace your natural skin tone. Even if you do a few simple changes in your life, it can make a big impact on your cancer risk in the future.

We can’t always escape our genetics. Some people will develop certain diseases no matter what happens. For most people, they can influence their disease risk by altering their lifestyle. Depending on the choices they make, that risk can either go up or down. It’s never too late to make a positive change in your life. Choose to live a healthier lifestyle and it can pay off in the end.

Learn more about Angela's battle against breast cancer.
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