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How Watching What You Eat May Help Prevent Cancer

Don’t be so quick to blame the genes you were born with.
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Medical advancements have led us to where we are now—the era of personalized health.

Dr. Ted Achacoso of Biobalance says there is no longer a “one size fits all” type of treatment or diet, because that well-crafted and personalized lifestyle all depends on the measurements unique to you.

Achacoso says that one of the misconceptions of this new wave of medicine is the overemphasis on DNA or genes. He says some people believe that their genes are their destinies, and, if they have a history that predisposes them to cancer or diabetes, it's as good as a life sentence.

Dr. Lucia Aronica, one of Achacoso's colleagues, is working on a study that completely dispels those beliefs.

This is where the term "epigenomics" comes in. In the field of lifestyle medicine, your "epigenome" is the sum total of everything in your lifestyle—from what you eat every morning, to how many sticks of cigarettes you smoke in a week, to the type of relationship you have with your partner. It literally means everything above the genomes.

“Genes are the book you inherit, whereas epigenetics is the book that you write,” Aronica says. She’s one of the world's noted lecturers and researchers on the subject and is developing a course on the topic for Stanford University.

A new measure of health

“On top of our genomes, we have our epigenomes, which is like a set of molecular markers that can influence gene expression," she says. "These changes can happen without changing the underlying DNA sequence, which is a very cool concept because it shows us that we are much more than our DNA sequence.” She goes on to explain that these epigenome changes occur all the time and are affected by our lifestyle choices.

Many people used to rely on genetic testing, but doctors like Aronica are discovering new markers that are redefining the definition of health. Suddenly, the results of genetic testing may seem less dependable and may need to be supplemented by something more.

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You really are what you eat

Aronica has introduced nutritional genomics, which she simplifies as “basically a give and take [relationship] between the food we eat and our genes.” You see, our genes can affect the way our body responds to certain food. This is nutrigenetics. A contrast to that would be nutrigenomics, which is how the food we intake affects our gene expression. These are the two major factors that one has to consider when testing for a prediction. These two can also help determine what one needs to eat in order to achieve a specific health goal, like if one would want to know whether he or she would lose more weight on a low carb or low-fat diet. 

“There’s a fight right now on which is the best diet, but you have to take a look at the context,” Achacoso chimes in. 

Nowadays, when patients find out they have a predisposition to inherit a certain disease, they consult Achacoso on modifications they can make to their diets to help prevent the disease. 

While genes do play a role in our health records, Achacoso believes a healthy epigenome fortified by healthy lifestyle choices can win. The upside of this is that you can try to change your epigenome by way of lifestyle.

In a culture like the Philippines, food is one of the biggest contributors to the epigenome. At some point in your lifetime, Achacoso says what you eat today will make a difference in your overall health, so he recommends that you start making those changes as soon as possible.

“One of the things that [Aronica] and I agree on is that wellness requires a little selfishness,” says Achacoso. “Devote time to streamline your lifestyle, especially if you’re predisposed to certain cancer risks and metabolic diseases.”

He says making these decisions now will benefit you and your family in the long run because once you suppress a cancer gene in your body, that expression will be passed on to generations to come.

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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