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“What is epigenetics?” you may ask. “Why should I care?”

The best answer to your question would probably be for you to watch a short PBS video on the subject. Here’s an overview to wet your tastebuds. Be forewarned that this is the overview of a lay-person, so there may be some gaps in my understanding.

People are generally familiar with the idea of genetically inherited traits. You may have a genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder or fibromyalgia. Hair color, eye color, baldness – these are all determined by our genes. I was surprised to find that our DNA is not as static as I had thought.

Basically, environmental factors – what you eat, whether you’ve been exposed to certain chemicals, the nutrients your parents ate even before you were born – can “turn on” or “turn off” DNA sequences.

A tiny chemical tag of carbon and hydrogen, called a methyl group [affixes to a particular gene], shutting it down. Living creatures possess millions of tags like these. Some, like methyl groups, attach to genes directly, inhibiting their function. Other types grab the proteins, called histones, around which genes coil, and tighten or loosen them to control gene expression. Distinct methylation and histone patterns exist in every cell, constituting a sort of second genome, the epigenome.Epigenetics literally translates into just meaning “above the genome.” So if you would think, for example, of the genome as being like a computer, the hardware of a computer, the epigenome would be like the software that tells the computer when to work, how to work, and how much.

For example: There is evidence that BPA, a chemical found in plastics, contributes to cancer and obesity in mice. The mechanism? Epigenetics. Scientists are studying whether BPA has a similar effect on humans.

The really exciting part about this research is that there may be ways to change someone’s epigenetics. There have been preliminary trials of treating cancer with epigenetic therapy, with 50% of patients going into remission. With no chemo, no hair loss, no feeling horrible and drained.

Epigenetic therapy is still being researched, tested, peer reviewed, etc. But think of the possibilities.

Another thing? Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia may be linked to epigenetics. My hope? One day epigenetic therapies will be used instead of all the side-effect-filled medications I currently take.

Go, scientists, go!

I dedicate this blog post to scientists everywhere.

I’m sometimes frustrated by science and scientists. I mean, how long did it take for them to come up with a fibromyalgia diagnosis instead of calling women “hysterical?” (For those of you who don’t know, “hysterical” has its root in certain female organs.) Also, I’d really like some better treatment options for fibromyalgia, or maybe a discovery of the root cause of it. Certainly a cure for bipolar disorder would be nice, or at least a better way to find the right medication than the trial and error method.

At the same time, the fact that we can even consider these things is really incredible. Science (and medicine) doesn’t always work perfectly, but when it does it’s amazing. We can perform open heart surgery, we’ve discovered a cure for leprosy, we’ve eradicated smallpox…not to mention all the other cool things science does.

The scientific process is not necessarily a glamorous one. There’s a lot of that trial and error method I mentioned earlier. Here’s a graphical description of their hard work from the webcomic XKCD.

Science Montage

'The rat's perturbed; it must sense nanobots! Code Gray! We have a helvetica scenario!' (The device in the second panel is a centrifuge, by the way.)

Let’s hear it for scientists!

(For the visually impaired: The comic shows two scenarios. In one, a pair of scientists use fancy equipment to test things on a rat, and use a number of complicated-looking tools such as a blow torch and strange looking tubes. At the end, they say, “Paint flecks from the killer’s clothing match an antigravity factory in Belgrade!” The other responds, “Let’s go!” In the second scenario, two scientists put something in a centrifuge and wait. At the end, they say, “Okay, we’ve determined there’s neither barium nor radium in this sample.” The other responds, “Probably.” I also have a sparkly caption that reads, “Let’s hear it for scientists!”)

NPR had a wonderful series on the mind-body connection awhile back. If you haven’t already listened to it, there is a great podcast on science and meditation.

The podcast is available for download, and there are some “web extras.”

People who meditate say it induces well-being and emotional balance. In recent years, a group of neuroscientists has begun investigating the practice, dubbed “mindfulness.” As NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports, they are exploring the hypothesis that meditation can actually change the way the brain works.

That seems pretty obvious to me, but I have some first-hand experience with the effects of meditation on my body. It’s interesting to see a clinically-proven take on what many people have known for millenia.

The Wisconsin scientists have demonstrated that meditators do have increased activity in one part of the brain, the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with emotional well-being. The response is strongest with long-time adept meditators, but the researchers see the same pattern of brain activity in people who are just being taught to meditate.

For more on science and meditation, Health Skills has an interesting blog post on a clinical study about the effect of deep breathing on pain and affect (attitude) among people with fibromyalgia and those without. The findings refer specifically to deep breathing, and not mindfulness meditation, positive visualization, guided meditation, or other meditation techniques.

My Etsy Store

A fibro-friendly item from my Etsy store

I've been working on making fibro-friendly jewelry. I'd love it if you checked them out by clicking the image above, or going to www.etsy.com/people/RogueCrafter

About Me

This blog is intended as a place for me to reflect on my own healing journey, in the hopes that others may also gain insight from my experiences. I've "borrowed" a line from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken:

'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'

I think the most important thing for me now is that I feel empowered to be a force for positive change in my life. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

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