Drum roll and trumpets please!  A new cancer causing pathway has been found. It involves telomeres of course.

I bring it to your attention though, not for what it has shown us, but for how it its marketed. You see even scientists know they stand a better chance of getting recognition if they blow the trumpets and role the drums.  That means press releases and social media nonsense that is written by non scientists.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I give them the same “get out of jail pass” I often claim: “I didn’t make this world, I just live in it!”

Still as your source of the truth about all things telomere related, especially when it comes to your health and your understanding, I consider it my calling in life to make sure you are not blown all over the map by media hype and internet nonsense.

So let’s go over a few facts:

1)      Fact one: Telomerase does NOT CAUSE CANCER. Every time I write this I hope it is my last but that is never the case it seems.  85% of human cancers turn on telomerase somewhere in the process of becoming cancer. In the one or two cases we are clear on its actually one of the last steps ( villous adenoma to colon cancer) but cancer genetics are a diverse thing and no one knows the exact sequence that mutations happen in all cancers. There is a growing contingent of people out there who feel that contrary to 65 years of research, cancer may not even be a genetic disease. When telomerase is expressed in cancer it can be a) mutated, b) amplified c) transposed d) any other genetic abnormality that can lead to over expression! The key is to understand that things happen to cause cancer long before telomerase expression shows up to immortalize the cells, and that those things lead to the loss of normal control of many genes and their end products. Telomerase over expression does not seem to cause cancer by itself in the absence of other major changes.

2)      Telomerase is required for ultra long longevity and gene integrity in cells. Two of the best examples are germ cells (the things that become sperm and eggs) where there is a large amount of telomerase expression and stem cells where there is less. The later fact is probably one of the main reasons stem cells age albeit at a slower rate than the rest of our cells.

3)      There are normal “cell cycle check point” mechanisms that have been known for some time now that need to be bypassed in order for cancer to take hold.

4)      Longer telomeres are associated with a cleaner genome (fewer mutations) cleaner mitochondrial cell powerhouses (fewer mutations better function and better ability to make new mitochondria) and a lower and less sever incidence of cancer.

5)      While most cancers turn on telomerase there is another way for cancer cells to lengthen their telomeres and survive that does not involve telomerase.  This generally is reserved for the badest of the bad in terms of genetic instability (actually if I am being scientifically correct its “genomic instability” but you know what I mean!). This mechanism is called ALT.

6)      The ability to divide endlessly either using telomerase or ALT is one of the hallmarks of human cancer.

That brings me to the “latest findings”.

One Dr Jan Karlseder of the Salk institute discovered one of the mechanisms behind the ALT method of lengthening telomeres. Dr Karlseder found a protein called ASF-1 that drops down to zero and triggers cells in culture to use the ALT mechanism to lengthen their telomeres.

All well and good but here are my gripes.

Cancers in real life have measurable levels of that protein. It does not drop to zero in ALT driven cancers.

The super irritating insinuation that I see in all such articles “This will help us develop drugs to fight cancer”  is present here. Cancer drugs are expensive, Cancer drugs are deadly, Cancer drugs divert research away from, gasp, cancer prevention which no scientists is willing to admit they believe in. And there is no money in prevention. If you think this is a joke mark my words a cancer preventative treatment that is not a patentable drug will not be released until a drug company owns it. At least not over their dead bodies. That said most of the quacks who claim to have cured cancer and have been jailed for such statements actually do belong there!

Next, the press release is entitled “Cancer Causing Pathway Explained”.

Now I bet this was the sole concoction of the press release company. I do not think that such smart scientists would allow their discovery to be called named this way. The ALT pathway does not cause cancer, it is probably one of the last or later pieces in the puzzle.  By naming it this way they are propogating the myth that telomeres are responsible for cancer.

Next there is the usual talk of “balancing cell aging with risk of cancer” . This implies that we get old and die to prevent cancer from killing us. After I am done with the LOL ing I want to remind everyone that old cells, senescent cells seem to excrete inflammatory and yes cancer causing signals. For this reason it seems nonsensical to propose that getting old protects us from cancer. Especially when cancer is a disease of aging in 95% of all cases!

Summing it up, I would say it this way: We are barking up the wrong tree. Telomerase and telomere lengthening are cancer protective under normal circumstances. Guys you have to keep looking for the chicken that is laying the egg not examining the ingredients in the omelet!   This is also the reason I am intrigued if not convinced of the metabolic cause/component of cancer.  The genetic stuff leads nowhere but to an ever increasingly large ‘room full of pathways’ that has no end. Great for researchers and crappy for people who have or want to prevent getting cancer.

In 12+ years of research I can tell you two things with surety. Walk around with “high” omega 3 levels and keep your telomeres long anyway you can.

There are quite a number of famous scientists who are doing just that even though they will not say it in front of their peers for fear of ridicule. Me? I don’t care who ridicules me. I refuse to sit on my ass and get old when there are real answers to slowing and eventually stopping the process.

I will make this prediction. Classic science just like classic medicine will not make major breakthroughs in aging and health span. They will trumpet their findings just like the article above but the real breakthroughs will come from people who are actively seeking the answers and doing something about it every day .

That is you and me my friend!

Best, Dr Dave

I hope I am not confusing you with my stance on epigenetics.  Ever since we wrote our book The Immortality Edge (Wiley 2010) I have stressed the role of things like diet, meditation, supplementation, exercise and sleep regulation, as a way of influencing your future health, wellness and longevity. In my Longevity Now talks last year, I reviewed how these things affected epigenetics and predicted, at that time, epigenetics would be the hot topic to come.  And now it is.

There is good news and bad news. Bad news first. Epigenetic study is probably not going to reveal a whole lot of new human behaviors that will modify your future.  Again, reference our book. One commenter, on Amazon, noted that “eating right, exercising and meditation are hardly new”, whining that he/she wanted “new” stuff.  Sorry, my friend, what has worked since the dawn of man will continue to work at a micro (telomeres and epigenetics) and macro (your health and wellness) level.  Additionally, the bad news is we know less about the epigenome than the genome. What I wrote about two years ago and spoke about last year, is becoming apparent: we know less about something that may be far more important than our genes in determining our fate!

Final piece of bad news: in spite of what the usual suspects are telling you, we do not know all that much (other than eating right, meditating, exercising, and supplementing) about how to create really favorable epigenomes, out of not so favorable ones. So while “yoga for epigenetics” or “Our diet or diet pill for epigenetics” or “exercise programs for epigenetics” makes sense, they are as yet unproven, so the claims are to be taken carefully, please.

The good news is that there is tremendous interest (funding) for all that and because of ever increasing computer power and global connectivity, the answers will come flooding in over the next few years, faster than ever!

What is likely to happen first is the disease based model we have lived with in medicine for centuries. Scientists will be looking to develop tests and drugs, to combat unhealthy epigenomes – while Mother Nature has already supplied the answer!

Cancer is one area where there is a flurry of epigenetic research and colon cancer, my personal greatest fear, is tops on the list, as of today, with breast cancer a close second.

A recent article, referenced below, has identified something called VELs, Variant Enhancer Loci that can be used to predict the risk of colon cancer. These are not part of the genome, but rather the epigenome.  They represent methylation gains and losses in thousands of histones (proteins attached to DNA – histones really are the major physical arbiters of epigenetics!) spread across the entire genome.  Since this pattern of changes is strongly predictive of colon cancer risk, it will surely be developed into a “pre test” for said cancer, allowing us to see a person at risk, long before a polyp or cancer develops.  And of course it then allows for follow up testing and a chance to change that epigenetic expression by the doctor and the patient. It does not alter your genetics and if you have high risk genes, you can’t change that. But, by far, most people succumb to their epigenetics, not their genetics, so you really can change the balance of these epigenetic marks, from sickness to health.

In case you are wondering about the role of telomeres here, an increasing percentage of short telomeres is almost always found in these situations, so therapy there may also help reverse the damage.

You will soon see profiles for other types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well.  All of these are markers for accelerated aging, in my book, so I am going to predict a significant overlap in these epigenetic marks. Further, I am going to predict that the central clearing house for these effects will be the telomere.

Speaking of books, if you want to know what you can do to clean up your epigenetics, make sure you read our book, The Immortality Edge,  because everything that helps the telomere helps your epigenetics as well!

Stay tuned to the newsletters and blogs so you can get the developments in honest, unadulterated fashion.


Science. 2012 Apr 12. [Epub ahead of print]

Epigenomic Enhancer Profiling Defines a Signature of Colon Cancer.

Akhtar-Zaidi B, Cowper-Sal Lari R, Corradin O, Saiakhova A, Bartels CF, Balasubramanian D, Myeroff L, Lutterbaugh J, Jarrar A, Kalady MF, Willis J, Moore JH,Tesar PJ, Laframboise T, Markowitz S, Lupien M, Scacheri PC. Source

Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.

I have said, I would admit when I was wrong and when I changed my thinking.  Back in 2005, I mentioned an article that suggested that flax increased the risk of prostate cancer. Specifically, it referred to alpha linolenic acid, the main short chain source of Omega 3’s in flax. I suggested it might overlap to breast cancer as well, since (yes, a little ahead of my time here) the issue was of increased Estrone, a pathogenic form of estrogen that seems to accumulate in men and women, after menopause and andropause.

Similarly, there was a lot of concern about soy based phyto estrogens in people who already had breast cancer. Lately my stance is I would not worry about it too much. Most of the studies I have seen, since 2005, suggest positive health benefits from lignans (phytoestrogen precursors in brans and flax) of which flax does really seem to have a huge amount. There is at least one older study, suggesting an increase in prostate cancer, with flax, but there are a lot of unanswered questions, such as: how was the study done?  Most are either the notorious “food questionnaire”, or lab cell cultures meaning – well, who knows what they really mean in free living people.  If you have had either of these cancers though, you might want to avoid flax just in case!  You see, the issue is not totally settled.  But it is clear to me I was heavy handed back then and I want to make amends!

A much bigger issue is the poor conversion of medium (also called short in the industry) chain 18 carbon fatty acids, from plants and seeds, which is about 5%. I did a finger stick Omega 6/3 test on over 100 vegetarians and vegans, many of whom were supplementing with flax or algae-derived Omega 3’s.  Not one of them had anywhere near a healthy ratio. Bottom line, if you are going to use flax, you pretty much need to use the straight oil and consume a minimum of 4 ounces a day, to get your levels anywhere near a healthy ratio for primary prevention.

I would remind you that marine-based Omega 3 supplementation has positive effects on the incidence of both prostate and breast cancer, far outweighing flax.  The amount of studies is about 12,000 for fish oil in human health, with no specific manufacturer funding and 60-ish for flax and other plant-based sources. It’s about 10 and all company funded, for krill.

While I was looking at flax and soy, I also checked the stats for ovarian cancer.  No solid data either way, it seems. Nothing has reached statistical significance, but again, there seems to be no cause for concern.

What about colon cancer?  Preliminary data in rodents suggests a possible protective effect, but again no clear cut data.

When I reviewed the data on fermented versus non-fermented soy products, I could not find any differences with either type.

So the bottom line is that unless you have already had a breast or a prostate cancer, you probably should not be too concerned about soy consumption. It does not appear to protect you or put you at risk.  So why do we see diminished rates in Oriental populations, with a seemingly direct link to soy consumption? I think I can correctly invoke our old (or new!) friend epigenetics here.  Most of the populations involved in this type of study are more homogeneous genetically, environmentally, socially and epigenetically than in this country, or many Western nations.  And in most of the soy consuming nations, the soy consumption is ongoing from a very young age, including prior to puberty.  Not so in the West.

As far as flax, the conversion of lignans to phytoestrogens yields a different mix than soy and the data is a bit more promising. Remember again, about 5% of the Omega 3’s in flax are effectively converted to the long chain form and this may account for the small but positive data in breast, prostate and colon cancer.  If you are hard core vegan/vegetarian, you will need to consume a lot of flax seeds for lignans and oil for Omega 3, but I suppose it can be done. Also, remember the benefits of sulforaphane and DIM, both from broccoli and broccoli sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables of the Brassica family.

You really do need to be careful about interpreting studies and of course, much more careful interpreting internet headlines!  A few tricks researchers play include claiming benefits to certain food groups when compared to other food groups.  A favorite is corn or other Omega 6 rich foods, which basically guarantee you will have a higher rate of tumor formation.  This was the case in more than one study I researched and it pretty much deflates those claims in terms of true prevention, although most people do eat too much Omega 6!

It took a long time and lots of studies for me to admit I was wrong, but you’ll pardon me.  Better late than never.

Humbly yours,

Dr Dave

Here are some references:

Soyfoods, isoflavones and risk of colonic cancer: a review of the in vitro and in vivo data


Consultant, Nutrition Matters, Inc.; Adjunct Associate Professor

Loma Linda University, California, USA


Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA


Phytoestrogen consumption from foods and supplements and epithelial ovarian cancer risk: a population-based case control study

Elisa V Bandera1,2*, Melony King2, Urmila Chandran1,2, Lisa E Paddock2,3, Lorna Rodriguez-Rodriguez4 and Sara H Olson5

Anna Hsu, Carmen P Wong, Zhen Yu, David E Williams, Roderick H Dashwood, Emily Ho. Promoter de-methylation of cyclin D2 by sulforaphane in prostate cancer cellsClinical Epigenetics, 2011; 3 (1): 3 DOI:10.1186/1868-7083-3-3

Gynecol Oncol. 2012 Mar;124(3):410-6. Epub 2011 Nov 23.

A randomized parallel-group dietary study for stages II-IV ovarian cancer survivors.

Paxton RJ, Garcia-Prieto C, Berglund M, Hernandez M, Hajek RA, Handy B, Brown J, Jones LA

Nutr Cancer. 2006;54(2):216-22.

Chemopreventive effects of dietary flaxseed on colon tumor development.

Bommareddy A, Arasada BL, Mathees DP, Dwivedi C.


Department of Pharmaceutial Sciences, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007, USA.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad WolfSeveral years back, there was quite a stir when a study suggested that Vitamin A, in smokers, was a bad thing.  There was a small, but significant increase in lung cancer, in smokers who took vitamin A and in those with asbestos exposure.  Since that time, those studies (there were actually 2 of them, dating about 12 and 9 years ago respectively) were questioned and the findings flawed, but that was back page news and not front page news.  To this day, these ancient studies are still cited on the internet, when the agenda of the writer calls for it. This type of “journalism” is nothing new.**

A well known alternative health guru released an article, while back citing a study that suggested Vitamin A might increase colon cancer by interfering with Vitamin D absorption. I read the study and it had nothing to do with Vitamin A causing colon cancer and that was not even the point of the study.  Still, by virtue of position of this individual, the audience they command, for better or worse, took up the cross. I have read Dr Michael Holick’s extensive tome on Vitamin D and there is not one word about Vitamin A interfering with Vitamin D, or causing colon cancer, either.

There has been some controversy about Vitamin A and gastric cancer, especially in the Japanese population.  While the debate will likely continue, the most recent published articles suggest that Vitamin A may indeed prevent it!

Most recently, the Vital Study showed a probable decrease in Melanoma, in people taking huge doses of Vitamin A (retinol).  Specifically, up to 40% reduction of this deadly cancer, a cancer which is on the rise because of sun exposure.

Lots of people forget the association of Vitamin A deficiency with many diseases.  In a nutshell, Vitamin A has an essential role in energy metabolism and regulation.  This includes fat burning, by the way- something to note if you are struggling with your weight.  Now, it would be rare for a Western person to have a full blown Vitamin A deficiency.  But Vitamin science is, just now, beginning to understand relative deficiencies, especially those associated with aging. Vitamin A’s essential role in energy metabolism should be considered, when we look at the aging of our cellular powerhouses, the mitochondria.

Finally, Vitamin A is an absolute must for a healthy immune system, healthy skin and of course healthy eyes and immune responses.

So what can we make of all this?  Well, I hope you are not too disappointed, but I can conclude only 4 things for sure, from my review of dozens of studies over the past decade.

1)      Don’t smoke and if you do quit now!

2)      If you are at high risk for melanoma, (see Melanoma Risk Factors) you might want to consider adding Vitamin A to your routine, or at least taking a multi with 5000IU or more.

3)      Conspiracy sells, far more than fact.

4)      Science does not help with #3 as much as we’d like, since answering questions, once and for all, puts an end to grant money!

Please, do not be afraid of Vitamin A!


**The internet has given rise to many conspiracies that are hard if not impossible to stop once they are started. Here is one example.