The Monarch Butterfly normally lives about a month, with one amazing exception: the fourth generation Monarch migrates, and this generation can live up to eight months. They migrate up to 3,000 miles, mostly to Mexico and California, where they overwinter, then begin the journey north to repopulate those areas that they migrated from. This generation doesn’t become sexually active before or during their migration, and only after they begin their migration northward, late in their life cycle, do they start laying eggs.
This special generation of Monarchs didn’t suddenly get new genes. Each generation is genetically the same, but climate triggers caused the change in the fourth generation. How?
Epigenetics, which refers to the ability for portions of DNA to become active or inactive at various times in response to environmental triggers, is the reason that the Monarch behavior and life span change so dramatically. Monarchs that die after a few weeks in the early generations are considered “old”, as they show all the signs of aging near the end of their lives. Yet, the fourth generation isn’t “old” until they return North.
A Key to aging
If the aging process were simple, we would have it all figured out by now. Certainly we have the desire to drink from the fountain of youth. Science is trying with great fervor to unlock the aging process, yet the keys elude us. But we have learned much about what causes aging. Some known causes are oxidative stress, telomere shortening, aggregation of proteins, glycation, and something called epigenetic age acceleration (EAA).
Looking at that list, we see that some factors of aging are built in. Try as we might, our science isn’t going to make us immortal. But — and this is very important — many of the factors of what we call aging are not built in to some biological clock that is beyond our control. They are cumulative results of our cellular foundations being assaulted by various internal and external environmental factors. While we all age, we age at different rates. Some people well over 80 still have a lot of drive and energy, while others decline in their 50’s or 60’s.
The fact is, we have significant control over our aging process. We can’t halt it, but we can “age gracefully” and slow or even reverse some of the significant aspects of the myriad of factors that we call “aging.” It appears that epigenetics may hold one of the keys. In a study conducted by The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, laboratory researchers introduced “Yamanaka factors” — specifically Oct3/4, Sox2, Klf4, and c-Myc which appear in embryonic cells — to aged adult cells. As a result the adult cells responded to those factors and they appeared to reverse the age clock — they acted just like young cells. The epigenetic response to these factors was essentially a reversal of the effects of aging. Since epigenetics is a key to aging, how does it work?
Cells can turn on or off various segments of their DNA. The process of turning off a segment is referred to as “silencing” of gene expression. The gene has not lost its code, but that portion is silenced so it does not express itself in the cell’s function. This process is reversible, so that expression can be turned back on. The process by which segments are turned on or off is “methylation” or “demethylation”. So what is that?
Methylation happens to only one of the four chemical components of DNA, those being adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C). You may have seen diagrams where the DNA is represented by a combination of these letters, such as TTGACAGCCGT — this shows the combination of these four components in a certain order, which provides cellular data, somewhat like binary code does in a computer. Only cytosine can be methylated: enzymes called methyltransferases transfer a methyl group from S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM) to the carbon 5 position of cytosine — now that cytosine has become 5-methylcytosine. In simple terms, a chemical component is added to one of the four components of DNA that causes the segment of code containing that addition to be ignored by the cell’s transcription process so long as that chemical piece is attached. Demethylation reverses this process. This is how a cell can turn on or off its DNA code segments.
What has been observed with epigenetic age acceleration (EAA) is that the methylation process can go too far, or not far enough, at various places in the body. As environmental triggers cause the turning on and off of segments, the areas of methylation paint a picture of that activity. Where strong environmental stress occurs, that picture is one of frenzied activity. Both hyper (too much) and hypo (too little) methylation appear to open the door to metabolic issues and disease. Hypermethylation suggests a major effort of the cell to deal with stress, as it actively tries to adjust its genetic response, and cancer cells may show hypermethylation. But cells can also show hypomethylation, where genetic expression that should be silenced is not. As we age, we also show “CpG islands” (CpG refers to the cytosine “C” and guanine “G” DNA pairing) of hypermethylated cytosines surrounded by general hypomethylation. Simply put, we see areas of too much gene silencing surrounded by general lack of silencing.
Methylation can be measured through chemical tests. This gives us a window through which to watch EAA progress. We can observe what slows or advances this key component of aging.
Cancer treatments and aging
Some of the most toxic prescription drugs are those used for chemotherapy. As we’ve seen, when the cells are exposed to toxins, they scramble to find a way to expel or survive with those poisons, and they do this through epigenetics, where they adjust their entire response to their environment. The same is true of radiation treatments, where cells scramble to survive the threat. An “alarm bell” rings, and they react to the emergency at extreme speed with epigenetic responses. Of course, the same is happening for the cancer cells. The gamble of chemotherapy and radiation is two-fold: that the treatments are more damaging to the cancer than to healthy cells, and that the cancer cells cannot adapt quickly enough to find a solution to the toxic environment before they die. But all cells in your body are dealing with the alarm bells and are trying to handle the emergency. Epigenetic responses can increase over a thousand times the normal rate of genetic expression change in an emergency, as the cells struggle to survive.
All this explains something that has been observed for many cancer survivors — they “age” during the treatments. EAA (epigenetic age acceleration) is the damage left behind by the treatments, weakening the body and making it more prone to disease in the future. This was seen in a study published a journal of the American Cancer Society called CANCER, where researchers reviewed cancer patients just before and after radiation treatments. Eighty percent of the patients also received chemotherapy. Methylation was measured for the treated patients, and as much as 4.9 years of equivalent age acceleration was observed in these patients after completing radiation treatments. After completing chemotherapy, about 4.7 years of EAA was observed. Further, inflammation levels were much higher in the patients after treatment, and those with the highest levels of inflammation also showed the highest levels of EAA.
Driving out cancer with poisons and radiation would be great if only the cancer cells were hit. Unfortunately these therapies force healthy cells to respond also. In doing so, they take a lien out on their future by their epigenetic response.
As we’ve learned how to observe more of the mechanisms by which cells operate, we’ve seen how their intricate design reacts to the environment of the cell. Our bodies are remarkably adaptable, and they can adjust to a bad environment by changing genetic expression, but that adaptation comes at a cost. Our effects of aging are largely the results of years of being pummeled by our internal and external environment. Our challenge is to provide the best environment we can to our cells. Living in a toxic environment is an issue for all of us, and more so for those who receive cancer treatments. It is vital to keep rebuilding your health since the environment naturally tends to age you. Consider the cost to your body of any medical treatment, and regardless of anything else you do, strive for every healthy advantage you can. Environment drives epigenetic response, which can mean better and longer life if you improve your personal environment.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Is it not amazing how the body works? If it needs to turn some part of the gene on to adapt to an environment then it adds or takes away a simple chemical compound: CH3, one carbon atom bound to three hydrogen atoms. So simple, but the question is how does it know to do that? The thing we call the body is actually the mind-body and it is far beyond the most complex computer system that can ever be assembled. It has an inherent wisdom to know what to do — and where does that wisdom come from? The mind. Which mind? The conscious mind, the subconscious mind, the unconscious mind? There is one more mind that is infinitely above all of those and we call it the supreme conscious mind. This mind knows exactly what to do and when to do it before you ever give it a thought. There is just one hitch in this self-correcting system: the environment. If you constantly choose to eat inflammatory foods, drink inflammatory drinks, get little to no exercise, do not sleep enough, think inflammatory thoughts of focusing too much energy on the future or past, then the environment you have produced cannot be dealt with by your cells indefinitely. Eventually they will not be able to handle the inflammatory and toxic environment you have produced, and your supreme conscious mind has no more parts available to build healthy cells because so much damage has been done on the front line of battle trying to constantly put fires out . What is the answer? Just get back to basics — 7 Basic Steps to restore your health. The mind-body is not trying to kill you, but heal you if you would only help it out. Remember what you got away with when you were 20 you will not get away with after 40 and especially after 50. Why do you think one out of every two men will be diagnosed with cancer and one out of every three women? It is the mental, emotional and physical environment that the cells are adapting to. We have addressed all these factors for over the last 35 years and have a program to balance each part — and most importantly the mind-body connection.
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.