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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’m having a pain day, so this post will be limited due to difficulty using the computer. As a general pick-me-up, I thought I’d share this video of a toddler with the giggles. It cheers me up even more than Cute Overload.

Ever notice how laughter is contagious?

There’s an intriguing video over on the NOVA scienceNOW website – a show on the U.S. Public Broadcasting Station. (Basically, it aims to provide interesting scientific information in roughly 10 minute segments.)

The episode in question has to do with sleep and memory. It covers such things as fruit fly sleep (and areas of their brains that are active when sleeping), rats who dream of mazes, and human memory. I won’t include too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that there seems to be a strong possibility that sleep is related to memory in humans. It also seems to affect learning. Think about studying for an exam before bed, and that information being reinforced overnight. Or what about those times people decide to “sleep on a problem.”

I can’t help wondering what exactly that means for people with fibromyalgia. If we don’t sleep well, does that affect our memories? Perhaps this connection between sleep and memory accounts for fibro fog. All this is, of course, my own personal speculation. It seems that other people have already thought of it. According to Arthritis Today,

One of the most popular theories about fibro fog has been that these problems are caused by sleep deprivation and/or depression, but one study [note: one] found that neither poor sleep nor depression seemed related to cognitive performance.  Brain scan studies have shown that from time to time, people with fibromyalgia do not receive enough oxygen in different parts of their brain. One possible reason is that part of their nervous system is off-kilter, causing changes in the brain’s blood vessels.

New research – though not on fibromyalgia specifically – shows that chronic pain itself may affect the brain. A technology called functional MRI found that in people with chronic pain, a front region of the brain mostly associated with emotion is constantly active. The affected areas fail to “shut off” when they should, wearing out neurons and disturbing the balance of the brain as a whole.

Again my own speculation – sleep, pain, and the brain are such complex issues that perhaps there are multiple causes at play. I guess I’ll be researching chronic pain and the brain next.

Regardless of my own pet theories, I like keeping up to date on sleep research. I hope you enjoy the video as well – it’s about 12 minutes, and quite entertaining.

I’d like to take a break from regularly scheduled discussion of health and lifestyle to discuss macro issues of health and lifestyle. Specifically, I’m talking about the health of our oceans and our planet.

When I went to the beach this past weekend, I was struck by how much plastic littered its shorelines. The calculation is simple. Trash gets washed from parks and streets and shopping malls down storm drains and into the water system. It eventually gets washed into rivers and bays and oceans.

After I returned from camping, I decided to do a little research on garbage and oceans. Maybe I’m too sheltered, and everyone already knows this. I thought I’d share anyway.

What I found most striking – there is a lot of research and information out there – was discussion of the Pacific Ocean “Garbage Patch.” Basically, a lot of that garbage is eventually funneled into ocean gyres. I haven’t taken an oceanography class, but from what I understand it’s an area of rotating ocean currents. Things get pulled in and they stay there: garbage patches in the ocean. You can’t see them via satellite, because plastics have been broken down into small particles that are not visible by satellite.

This trash affects the ecosystems of ocean gyres. Plastics are being broken down into smaller and smaller particles, which are then consumed by plankton, jellyfish, fish that are low on the food chain. These pollutants eventually work their way up the food chain to us. (Think bPA – and more – in your food.) More importantly, it’s destroying our oceans and all the animals/plants/creatures that inhabit them (or eat the things that inhabit them).

There’s a more detailed discussion of the Pacific Garbage Patch at TED.com, which is a great website for talks on current research and events.

In other news, I combined a little bit of environmentalism with exercise today. I walked one mile and collected three bags of trash. Those included the remains of someone’s KFC lunch (I did not open the bag), a child’s sock, numerous plastic bottles, bits of paper, and more.

Note: this takes the place of Friday’s post.

I recently re-watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a Japanese animation (anime) film about a girl who is transported to a world of spirits. A sorceress tries to steal her name, she helps a river god, and undertakes a journey to help a friend. Not to mention saving her parents from their own stupidity. It’s a “heroic journey,” a la Joseph Campbell. It’s a really great film – beautifully animated, great score…I could go on and on.

The real point of this is that the closing credits have a wonderful song, which definitely made me cry the last time I watched it. The English translation is:

Somewhere, a voice calls, in the depths of my heart
May I always be dreaming, the dreams that move my heart

So many tears of sadness, uncountable through and through
I know on the other side of them I’ll find you

Everytime we fall down to the ground we look up to the blue sky above
We wake to it’s blueness, as for the first time

Though the road is long and lonely and the end far away, out of sight
I can with these two arms embrace the light

As I bid farewell my heart stops, in tenderness I feel
My silent empty body begins to listen to what is real

The wonder of living, the wonder of dying
The wind, town, and flowers, we all dance one unity

Somewhere a voice calls in the depths of my heart
keep dreaming your dreams, don’t ever let them part

Why speak of all your sadness or of life’s painful woes
Instead let the same lips sing a gentle song for you

The whispering voice, we never want to forget,
in each passing memory always there to guide you

When a mirror has been broken, shattered pieces scattered on the ground
Glimpses of new life, reflected all around

Window of beginning, stillness, new light of the dawn
Let my silent, empty body be filled and reborn

No need to search outside, nor sail across the sea
Cause here shining inside me, it’s right here inside me

I’ve found a brightness, it’s always with me

I’m guessing you can probably tell why someone on a healing journey might tear up at that song. I thought you might enjoy it, too.

Here’s a youtube video of the closing credits, complete with a decent audio version. To truly appreciate it, you really need to see the film yourself.

Drum circles are amazing. My first drum teacher told me that, “In drumming, there are no mistakes – only solos.” When the rhythm gets going, there’s this ephemeral beat coursing through your body. You stop thinking, because if you think too much you miss the beat. So you just let your hands and your body go, and barriers between you and the universe break down.

I’ve been meaning to go to more drum circles like this one. I’m a bit shy, because I’m out of practice at the moment. My soul needs the music, so I’ll have to get in shape.

I have a djembe, a West African hand drum. It can be challenging to use, because it involves balancing the drum between my thighs. And then of course there’s the way my hands get sore sometimes. If I’m in practice, though, drumming is a great escape. It’s helped rebuild some strength in my hands, and it’s a good core strength workout.

When I’m conscious about how my body is doing, when I am aware of where the line between “stretching comfort zone” and “doing too much,” and then I let my thinking mind drift away…it’s sublime.

Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs | Video on TED.com

This is an amazing video about a woman and her 12 pairs of prosthetic legs. She discusses ways that her “disability” has created opportunities and experiences that she never would have had otherwise. There’s a lot of good empowerment their. Plus, some of those legs are really beautiful artwork.

Description from the TED website:

“Athlete, actor and activist Aimee Mullins talks about her prosthetic legs — she’s got a dozen amazing pairs — and the superpowers they grant her: speed, beauty, an extra 6 inches of height … Quite simply, she redefines what the body can be.”

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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