Blue Ribbon/Pink Ribbon and Cancer Prevention (not just awareness)

As we leave September and begin October, we focus on two ribbons: a blue one and a pink one. What do ribbons have to do with these autumn months? Well, it started in October 1985 with the first Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To their credit, the women were first to create a national push to address the second leading cause of cancer deaths. We men have finally caught on; designating September 2016 as the first Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

While I applaud the wonderful efforts of the various cancer societies to bring awareness, I wish to change the conversation. We now have the means to actually prevent these cancers, which is different from catching them early. If there were something you could do that actually reduced the chance that you would ever develop cancer in the first place, would that interest you?

The statistics for these two cancers are pretty sobering. For us men, about 180,000 are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, with about 29,000 of us dying from it on an annual basis. For the women it’s even worse; with more than 290,000 new cases in 2015 and over 40,000 deaths last year alone.

I still remember the medical school lecture on prostate cancer, when the professor said, “If a man lives long enough, he WILL get prostate cancer”. The statement itself was so matter-of-fact; and to my 24 year old ears, it was very sobering—you might even say frightening. I remember thinking, “I do want to live a long life, but I don’t want prostate cancer”! Now there is a way for men (and women) to PREVENT these cancers, while also helping themselves in other very important ways.

The first step is to learn if you have a genetic mutation in the MTHFR system. These initials stand for MethylTetraHydroFolate Reductase. You can see why we just say MTHFR. This enzyme system is a key player in three major areas that affect your health. One of those areas involves your likelihood of developing breast or prostate cancer, depending on gender. The other two areas deal with risk of stroke/heart attack and the likelihood of battling with depression/anxiety.

The test looks at two specific genes, and it involves a simple blood draw for “MTHFR genomics”. Fasting is NOT required. A mutation in either of the two genes renders a person unable to adequately activate the vitamin known as “folic acid”. Remember the last time you opened up a new credit card account? When your card arrived in the mail, you opened up the envelope and signed your new card, but before you made your first purchase, you did something else. You picked up a phone and called the designated number. You then used your keypad to enter the card number, so that your card would be activated for use.

Folate is actually a B Vitamin, and the synthetic form is called folic acid. Whether we ingest it from a vitamin pill, or from food, our body must activate it in order to get the most benefit from it. Those born with a mutation in the MTHFR system cannot accomplish this activation adequately, which can lead to problems in any of the three areas of health mentioned above.

The great news is that this genetic deficiency doesn’t require the use of a prescription drug, but can be overcome by taking L-5-MTHF, which is a vitamin.
L-5-MTHF is the biologically active form of folate, which means you are not relying on your body to activate it. Most people with the deficiency do fine with 5mg per day, while the occasional person needs 10mg. Those with significant mood issues may require 15mg daily, which is available with a prescription called Deplin, which the FDA deems a medical food that must be obtained from a pharmacy.

The first step is to get tested. Those most likely to test positive for MTHFR mutation are individuals with a personal or family history of breast or prostate cancer; those who have struggled with low mood, anxiousness, or sleep difficulties (whether they have required medication or not); or those with personal or family history of stroke or heart attack, especially if they have a homocysteine level in their blood that is greater than 8.0.

Every single one of us has inherited some genes that are less than desirable. The only thing worse than learning you have inherited some “bad genes” is not knowing you have them. Your genes are your destiny ONLY IF you do nothing to redirect the outcome. Knowledge IS power. I urge you to take charge of your health. Get tested for MTHFR genomics, and elevate your awareness to PREVENTION.