Stopping DNA Damage
Quick background: Genes are segments of DNA that code for proteins. These proteins can act as enzymes, causing reactions to happen, or they can be part of the structure of the organism.
What causes instability or damage to DNA?
- Damage can occur to the nuclear DNA from various sources – exposure to a toxicant, UV exposure in sunlight, radiation, certain viruses, etc.
- When cells reproduce and divide, replication errors often occur in the DNA.
- Sometimes entire chromosomes can be lost or parts of a chromosome translocated (spliced into a different spot than normal) during cellular replication.
Essentially, bad things can happen to DNA when it is copied for a new cell. It can break, pieces can be missing, or it can get mucked up.
The body has error checking mechanisms in place to repair the errors if possible, but once in a while this system doesn’t work like it is supposed to.
Mutations are simply changes in a gene. A “T” gets swapped for a “G”, or perhaps a little piece of the gene gets left out or duplicated.
As we age, all these hits can add up.
Cancer, DNA, and Mutations
One cornerstone of healthy aging is to avoid getting cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death world-wide, and cancer really sucks.
While cancer is complex and not just one disease, cancer prevention strategies can be generalized towards preventing DNA mutation as much as possible.
What causes the mutations? Well, errors can occur whenever cells replicate DNA in order to divide. So there is always a chance of a mutation occurring in the DNA in a gene important to suppressing tumors, a gene important in DNA repair, or a gene that promotes cell growth (oncogenes).
You don’t want to have mutations that turn off tumor suppressor genes or increase the function of an oncogene.
While DNA mutations can happen spontaneously, there are things we can do to decrease the odds of the DNA damage.
Avoiding radiation: Obviously, nuclear disaster areas should be avoided…
- If you live in an area where radon gas is common, test for it and mitigate if needed. Radon gas is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. [ref]
- UV radiation causes skin cancer. While sun exposure has many benefits, it can be a double-edged sword. Be vigilant about getting odd-looking moles or changes to skin looked at and removed if necessary.
Avoid Carcinogens: While it is easy to think of carcinogen exposure being only from cigarette smoke – or a big, bubbling chemical waste cesspool – the reality is that we are all exposed to carcinogens on a daily basis. Dose matters… and avoiding carcinogens as much as possible as we age is important. [ref]
- Acrylamide from burnt or grilled foods.
- Aflatoxins from moldy grains, peanuts, etc.
- Acetaldehyde and ethanol from consuming alcoholic beverages
- Hormone therapy (not all hormone therapies – certain combinations of estrogen and progesterone are linked to specific cancer risk)
- Exposure to aluminum production, hematite mining, cadmium, chromium, nickel, coal emissions, coal-tar, and many other industrial or mining exposures.
- Tobacco products
- Various pesticides including glyphosate
- Light at night… listed by the WHO as a probable carcinogen, and one that affects a whole lot of people
Treating Pathogens (viruses, bacteria): Several common pathogens can increase the likelihood of cancer-causing mutations. Obviously, not everyone exposed to these viruses will get cancer (90% of people carry the Epstein Barr virus, only a tiny percent will get cancer from it). [ref] Treatments exist for many of these pathogens.
- H. pylori – (bacteria, stomach cancer)
- Hepatitis C, B – (virus, liver cancer)
- HPV (virus, cervical cancer)
- Epstein-Barr virus (lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease)
- HLTV-1 (virus, T-cell leukemia)