People get cancer. Most people think cancer is hereditary, or genetic. People have heart attacks or strokes; and again most people think that cardiovascular disease is hereditary or genetic.
Wrong on both fronts.
Are you familiar with the term epigenetics? You should be.
Epigenetics describes how environmental factors – which often means your lifestyle choices – are more important or, what ultimately will determine whether a genetic trait gets expressed or ‘triggered’. For example, someone could have a familial history for heart disease or breast cancer, but ‘overriding’ or influencing that genetic tendency to be expressed – what will cause your cells to be activated toward heart disease or cancer – are outside factors such as diet, exercise and the like.
You may have heard the funny story of the unhealthy/overweight man who says to his doctor ‘Heart disease runs in my family’. The doctor replies ‘Actually, no one runs in your family’.
Medicine and medical research has always driven down the path of reductionism – breaking things down to smaller individual components to [theoretically] better understand and ‘solve’ problems – i.e. find a cure.
Reductionism has been the predominant paradigm of science over the past two centuries. Reductionism pervades the medical sciences and affects the way doctors diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases. The assumption is that complex problems are solvable by dividing them into smaller, simpler, and thus more tractable units.
As a result of the pervasive presence of reductionism, the news surrounding health and disease continues to be presented from a compartmentalized perspective – heart, prostate, kidney, pancreas (diabetes), etc. For the record, disease is a lack of health – read here; not the opposite – that health is a lack of disease. However, and this is very important: another overriding narrative is emerging, even within the reductionistic paradigm – what helps a person be healthy helps them … be healthy. Not simply a particular organ or system within the body, but the whole body.
The Verdict Is In
What’s surfacing is that the same things – your lifestyle choices – that help you avoid heart disease are what will help you avoid dementia, and will help you avoid cancer (or even live better/longer if you have cancer).
Yes, the human body is made up of cells, organs, and organ systems that theoretically can be isolated to see a disease process more clearly from a specialist’s point of view and may even help with the diagnosis and ‘treatment’ of disease; however, there’s another concept that goes beyond this reductionist paradigm – that of being healthy, of promoting health – not simply in a particular organ or system, but for the entire body. For example, everyone knows that exercise is good for cardiovascular health – exercise prevents heart attacks and strokes, and promotes the recovery from such. But did you know that exercise and diet influences (helps) the immune system, the reproductive system, the elimination system (how well/often you poop) function better and be healthier – i.e. exercise and diet affect cancer rates.
‘There is strong and consistent evidence that physical activity reduces the risk of several of the major cancer sites, and that between 9% and 19% of cancer cases could be attributed to lack of sufficient physical activity in Europe. Public health recommendations for physical activity and cancer prevention generally suggest 30–60 min of moderate or vigorous-intensity activity done at least 5 d per week.’ [article link]
‘… a new study from researchers at the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute links exercise with a lower risk of 13 specific types of cancer.’
How about what’s on your fork? The link between diet and cancer is well established.
‘More than 80,000 new cancer cases are estimated to be associated with suboptimal diet among US adults in 2015.’ [article link]
So, here’s the take away:
- Genetic predisposition is subordinate to environmental factors, including your lifestyle choices.
- Being healthy is a global phenomenon – what makes one part of the body healthy affects the entire body.
- The Bonfire triad of diet (FUEL), exercise (AIR), and stress/sleep/attitude (SPARK) combined are profoundly significant to whether you are healthy, whether you’ll develop diabetes to dementia.