Epigenetics - turning your lemons into lemonade

March 23, 2015


If you’ve been following my blogs for a while you will know that I’m pretty keen on promoting factors for improving fertility….and that I’m doing this for two reasons: I see a need for this in the community, and I am working through my own personal fertility “challenges”.  Now if like me you’re nudging closer to the big 4-0 you will understand the time pressures around having babies – ‘do it now before it’s too late!’ tends to be a common cry from society.  I also have a BRCA1 mutated gene (it is nowhere near as cool as X-Men make it out to be, just sayin’) which means I have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer - the professional medical advice is to whip the ovaries out before I turn 40.  Zoiks.  I kinda need those to make babies, I’m pretty sure.  Prophylactic bi-lateral mastectomy is also a recommendation.


Now I have been accused of dancing to the beat of my own drum (YES!) so it really isn’t surprising that I’m not too keen on this advice.  But I’m not the kind to just put my head in the sand and ignore things either.  If we rewind a number of years, way before this BRCA1 diagnosis and before my sister got breast cancer, I started looking into epigenetics, primarily from a perspective of a naturopath working with women wanting to conceive healthy babies. The basics of epigenetics in this context is that the food we eat, the toxins we’re exposed etc beginning from the 4 months leading up to conception, will have an effect on the outcomes of the foetus that can continue all the way through their adult life.  Basically, the healthier your egg and sperm are, the healthier your baby will be.  Healthy practices can set your baby up for a healthier life, regardless of the genetics you pass on to them.


So after a terrifying BRCA related conference earlier this month, where everyone was loping bits off and talking about the human body in reference to ‘spare parts’ I decided to get back into research mode and started looking into epigenetics again, more thoroughly than before, because to be quite frank, I would really rather keep my breasts and ovaries, and not get cancer.  Yep, I want to have my cake and eat it too - refined sugar and wheat free of course!  Now when you talk to experts about BRCA1 they tend to have a very simple view on the matter: you’re better off removing the risky bits while they’re healthy to avoid them becoming unhealthy – oh and diet and lifestyle have very little impact on this, especially if you have a mutated gene.  Did I mention that these experts tend to be surgeons, oncologists and geneticists?


However, according to some other experts, it is not our genes that decide our fate.  Yes we can be handed some lemons, but if you alter your environment you can, metaphorically, turn them into lemonade.  One such expert is Dr Bruce Lipton.  I saw him present on 17 March, he was brilliant.  As a cell biologist he has worked with genes, stem cells, cell manipulation and so on.  He, like so many others, used to believe and even teach that our genes decided the fate of our health.  But he discovered that it’s actually our cell membranes that are responsible for instructing our cellular and genetic behavior.  So what influences our cell membranes?  Our environment – that includes the food we eat, the lotions we put on our skin, the air we breathe, our thoughts and emotions – these all trigger chemical responses in the body that are picked up by our cell membranes and transmitted into our cells.  You can listen to one of his presentations on YouTube here to get the full run down.


My take-away from all of this is:


  • Our thoughts have a huge influence on our health

  • When we think positive thoughts we change the chemistry in our blood (release of feel good neurotransmitters and hormones) that signal healthy growth and development in our cells

  • The brain will try to align the body to conform to the messages we repeatedly tell ourselves.  How many times have you said “I’m tired, so tired, I always feel tired”?  Your body responds to this constant messaging by guess what….feeling tired.  Try a different record next time.

  • You’ve got to believe these thoughts for them to have a positive impact

  • Exercise, most days – choose something you enjoy

  • Eat well – basically eat real food, avoid processed and artificial shit, choose organic where you can or even better, grow your own

  • Keep the booze and the caffeine to a minimum.  Sorry to say I learned long ago that for optimal health, particularly for keeping your hormones balanced you should have no more than 3 glasses of wine, PER WEEK.  I don’t always stick to this, but I’m making a stronger effort to

  • Remove as many toxins from your environment as possible.  Ones that are easy are things like perfume, cigarettes, skin care, shampoo, cosmetics, and household cleaners (I’ve got some recipes for homemade versions here).  Now while you can’t avoid every possible thing that is reportedly bad for you, I think it’s easy to avoid many, such as perfume which has no functional benefit or practical application – to me this is important in reducing cancer risk and certainly a hell of a lot easier than prophylactic removal of breasts and ovaries.  To me, that’s a no brainer.


It blows my mind the disconnection so many of us have with our everyday actions and the impact they have on our health, I guess so many of us just don't know about the connections.  At this cancer conference I attended we were feed processed food with a heavy emphasis on refined white flour, not a salad or side of veges in sight – and the goodie bags included cosmetic products loaded with potential carcinogens and known endocrine disruptors* – and the message for prevention was removal of body parts.  I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect, I bloody enjoyed a scone with jam and cream at that conference, but I’m aware it’s not great and I’m continually working on making better choices.  The points made above are a good start and they’re important whether you’re trying to have a healthy baby, reduce your cancer risk or just live a healthier life and many of them are easy to implement.


Hopefully this blog gets you thinking about some of the areas you can work on to improve your health, because it really is up to us.


*The organiser of this event actually pulled a marvelous feat in doing most of this herself and keeping costs down, so it's not a criticism of her....just that there is some room for improvement.



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