If you want to improve your health, we shouldn’t neglect your blueprint—your genes. I personally have a love/hate relationship with them. Love to test, hate to analyze. I don’t understand how the traditional medical model breaks your body down into these neat little compartments; cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, etc.
If you look closely at your blood, you can see how one system influences the other. Now imagine, your genes and what those interactions look like. It literally causes my brain to ache.
Can I change my genetics?
We all learned that our genes don’t change…thanks mom/dad (especially mom, turns out we get most influence from her). But now it has been determined that for the majority, we can change their expression based on how we live: our food, our lifestyle, and our interaction with the environment.
This can be a double edged sword. It means we may be able to turn off most of the effects of bad choices made by our parents, but possibly turn on our own.
That’s why I love objective testing, it shows what we have to work with and then provides feedback as to how well our hard work has paid off.
What is a SNP?
Genes are beyond cool. We have about 19,000 of them to code for proteins which can be used to do specific jobs. Many of these are redundant in case we somehow mess up the process so we may be covered. So what can go wrong?
Imagine each gene as a piece of twisted wire comprised of individual strands. If a strand is broken, it may weaken the wire, or in this case the gene. This is called a genetic SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism). The gene may continue to do its job, but may not work so well. Unfortunately, we need good genes for good health.
How do SNPs change our genes?
Just because a SNP exists, it may not be negatively affecting function. SNPs may cause genes to be upregulated which causes too much activity, or downregulate which slows things down.
Sometimes, SNPs may end up cancelling the affect of each other downstream!
Some SNPS provide an initial “survival of the fittest” advantage but as we age, become a disadvantage. That what Epigenetics is all about. The body changes based on our interaction with our environment.
Is there a test to determine if a SNP is affecting my health?
How do I support a SNPs negative impact on my health?
I won’t get into the specifics of each SNP and its affect on genetic expression, but instead want to focus on how to improve their function. This is where the science of Nutrigenomics comes in. Turns out some really smart scientists spent “Malcom Gladwell outliers” amount of time uncovering interventions for specific types of genetic defects. Many of these contradict and overlap, so it becomes difficult to analyze, let alone implement.
So we focus on determining the SNPS interventions that are best known to affect health. Please work with a practitioner trained in Epigenetics. With help of your doctor or healthcare provider, you can make changes in your health and the health of your future generations with appropriate dietary, lifestyle changes or supplement support.
How do I get my genetic information?
I recommend ancestry.com or 23andme.com. It is inexpensive and kind of fun especially if you are interested in knowing where your people came from. But for those in the know, you can get the raw data to see what you are currently holding in your genetic hand.
This stuff is cryptic and if you follow the links, can be downright scary. But genes don’t necessarily dictate what is going to happen, just outlines possibilities.
How do SNPs affect function?
Everyone is talking MTHFR, so let’s use that as an example.
MTHFR is just one of many enzymes involved in the methylation cycle. This cycle cycle has been found to influence cardiovascular function, detoxification, brain function, mood, and so much more. According to genetic expert, Dr. Amy Yasko, “If the mythical fountain of youth did exist, my guess is it would be this pathway.”
Before I dove into genetics, I used to think giving methylated folates and/or B12 and B6 would solve MTHFR issues. Turns out the type of quantity and type of these B vitamins supplemented make a huge difference. Word of warning, it is easy to over-methylate yourself so please work with a practitioner especially if you begin to feel worse over time after taking them.
Methylation works in concert with other cycles: folate, transulferation, biopterine, and methionine pathways so you can’t look at it in isolation. The whole process needs to be supported by simultaneously taking all the SNPs into account.
I know it sounds technical, but to simplify it, just imagine a set of gears–like a car transmission– comprised of interconnecting cogs. Each cog has multiple sensor wires attached to provide its status. Since the cogs are connected, movement in one cog drives movement in another.
If everything is working well, the outcome of the chain of cogs movement will be a “methyl” molecule. It then gets attached to some protein, DNA, etc. and—together with the appropriate cofactors and lack of environment insults —turns on its intended function in the body and sends an “ok” message.
But if there is no cog movement due to a genetic defect or cofactor issues, the cogs don’t move, no status message (or a weak one) is sent, the process is broken and function is compromised.
Is there an example of how to support a genetic weakness?
Sure. We have a gene called CBS (it is part of the transsulferation cycle that works in concert with methylation). CBS has been shown to have several potential SNPs, or variants.
Before we begin, some key points.
- Your genes may be fine, but if there is a deficiency in cofactors, you may have a loss of function.
- If there are not any known health issues caused by an individual’s CBS variant or cofactors, you would not need to support the SNP.
- It is important to assure that whatever intervention chosen, we don’t negatively affect function elsewhere—as they may also have their own potential SNP or cofactor issues..
For example, let’s say my CBS SNP slows down the activity of the gene–which slows the conversion of homocysteine back to methionine, and lowers the production some great things I need like glutathione, taurine, and sulfate. This can lead to issues with energy production, detoxification, inflammation, fat assimilation, etc.. That’s a lot of influence for just one gene.
I might begin by looking at an objective maker called homocysteine to see if the CBS variant has manifested into an actual health issue. Homocysteine is naturally produced by the body but excess has been show to lead to heart disease or Alzheimer’s. If it is high, I might have an issue with reduced CBS function, cofactors, or methylation, etc. and would want to support function.
Fortunately, I don’t have any methylation problems, my B12 and folate are normal as well, but homocysteine is high and I have issues with detoxification. I decide to support this SNP. How? With B6 which has been found to help enhance the function of this gene and reduce homocysteine.
Let’s talk B6 for a minute. In addition to its role in methylation, it helps create the neurotransmitters; serotonin, dopamine, and GABA and supports the conversion of the amino acids, glycine and serine. It is important for detoxification by helping create glutathione. How would I know if I have enough B6? I look at my blood test and/or my organic acids data. Sure enough, I have all the markers indicating low B6.
But taking B6 might just just be a band aid. I can supplement with active B6, but I also need to focus on reducing any toxic load, inflammation, free radicals, or infections that could potentially overwhelm my compromised system or turn on other SNPS.
I also need to address why I have low B6. Is it the extra demand from this or other SNPs, an underlying issue with activating B6, oxalates, digestion, diet, etc.
Conversely, if the variant in my example were an upregulating CBS SNP, I would take a different perspective. For instance, I might want to see if excess ammonia was being generated— which is commonly outcome this type of upregulation. If so,, I would apply a completely different intervention–possibly butyrate to sop up the ammonia.
Again, I would then look elsewhere at the ammonia issue and at other SNPS or cycles that could be causing it. At the same time, I might look for underlying inflammation or oxidative that might be driving the accelerated CBS activity.
All I can add is “witness the power of information”.