Today’s health condition topic is quite personal for me. We have a lot of cancer in my family and I consider myself to be high risk. My mother and grandmother both had breast cancer and I can find incidences of the disease on both sides of the family, including breast, lung, prostate and stomach cancers. I suspect that I’m far from alone in having cancer on my radar. Around 13.7 million Americans alive on January 1, 2012 either had a history of cancer or were undergoing treatment at that time. This year’s projection of new cancer cases to be diagnosed is 1,665,540 (that’s just in the United States). Those diagnoses will touch the lives of many more people.
I’ve always feared cancer but I never really understood it until I took courses recently in genetics and virology. Cancer is an issue of both genetics and the immune system. As cells divide, errors in DNA replication occur, creating mutations. If enough mutations accumulate in the cell, it becomes a cancer cell and stops doing the job it is supposed to be doing. Normally a deviant cell will self-destruct, an action known as apoptosis. But the mutations in cancer cells prevent apoptosis. If the immune system does not catch and kill these abnormal cells, they multiply and eventually form a tumor, which is made up of billions of cancer cells. What causes severe illness is the growth of the tumor, which leads it to develop its own blood supply and to disrupt the body’s normal processes. Interference with the normal healthy cells is detrimental to the person. The cancer cells can also enter the bloodstream and move to other parts of the body, forming more tumors and causing functional disruption in multiple locations. This is why early detection and prevention is critical to survival.
So what does this have to do with MTHFR? Quite simply, MTHFR gene mutations can create an environment in the body that makes cells more likely to become cancerous. First, there is under-methylation (or hypomethylation). Of course, when talking about methylation, one always wants it to be balanced. Over-methylation (or hypermethylation) is just as bad as under-methylation. But folate is essential to proper DNA repair, which is a cell’s first-line defense against harmful mutations, so it is best to ensure that you are getting enough. Then there is the toxin issue. As we know, under-methylation and high homocysteine is common in those with untreated MTHFR gene mutations and this leads to an overabundance of toxins in the body. These may be everything from chemicals to metals to viruses to bacteria. Methylation imbalances lead to glutathione deficiency, which significantly decreases your body’s ability to remove toxins. And toxins contribute to cancer.
As Dr. Ben Lynch explains, it can be difficult to find studies that definitively connect MTHFR and certain cancers. The cancer and methylation connection is much more conclusive. Some examples of cancer research in relation to the two major MTHFR gene mutations, however, include breast, esophageal, gastric and oral cancer for C677T, and breast, colon and esophageal cancer for A1298C. Breast cancer, which is of particular interest to me, seems to be significantly affected by one’s folate status. Recent research purporting that a high intake of folic acid causes breast cancer did not take into account those with MTHFR gene mutations, whose folate alpha receptors can be blocked by high doses of synthetic folic acid, which they cannot process into a usable form. Not only is breast cancer associated with both of the MTHFR polymorphisms, but it is also thought to have a significant relationship with viruses. In fact, viruses play a role in 15 to 20 per cent of all human cancers. The known viruses include Epstein-Barr (EBV), hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus (HPV) and Human T-cell lymphotropic virus 1 (HTLV 1).
This brings me to inflammation and the immune system, both common problems of those faced with methylation gene defects. Persistent infections, caused by the inability of the body to detoxify properly, are a cause of inflammation that can lead to cancer. While it takes many steps for an infection to change cells into a cancerous form, it’s still important to address inflammation and ensure that your immune system is functioning optimally. Stomach cancer, for example, is very common and up to 60 per cent of cases may be caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a widespread bacteria. It’s also important also to realize that what is right for one person’s body chemistry may not be right for another’s when it comes to health. This is why having our genetic information can be so helpful in the battle against deadly diseases like cancer. And as much as some scientists say that cancer is just a case of genetic roulette, many experts say otherwise, especially as new epigenetic research comes to light. So don’t be discouraged by your MTHFR gene mutations. They are so common! Use the information to take charge of your health and begin your own cancer prevention strategies.
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