If you’re just joining in to my Explaining Genetics series, I highly recommend starting with the first two articles in the series, Explaining Genetics Part 1: Genetics vs. Nutrigenomics and Explaining Genetics Part 2: The Significance of MTHFR Variants.
I believe every specialty subset in medicine will one day test genetic variants specific to the organ system they treat. This may sound futuristic, but I believe it’s realistic! We know there are genes specific to one’s response to drug therapy. Take mental health drugs for example.
Genes and Mental Health
There are also some specific companies that focus on genetic variants specifically for mental health. Two of those companies are Genomind and Genesight. These companies look at a few variants of genes specific to metabolizing mental health drugs. Each patient report includes a drug interaction summary, which can serve as a guide for clinicians to help determine which therapies may be the least and the most beneficial for the patient. Many insurance companies cover this testing.
For instance, SLC6A4 is one of the most studied genes in psychiatry. Having this genetic variant suggests that caution should be used with both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). I have had several patients present to my clinic after having tried handfuls of mental health drugs, never having found a great fit and consequently never having achieved relief from their symptoms. Working these individuals through the Longevity Blueprint has reduced their need for medication. When medication is still needed, this type of testing helps to personalize their care and better their outcomes.
It’s not just mental health drugs, but all medications are dependent on enzyme function (which we can gain insight to from your genes).What if you knew you had a SLC01B1 variant, and you were told that not only would statin medications for cholesterol not benefit you, but that they would also cause muscle pain? Would you take the statin? Adverse reactions to properly prescribed medications cause over a hundred thousand deaths every year (USFDA 2016). I can’t help but believe many of these could be prevented if we were using our genetic data. Testing is even important for those who feel they are fairly healthy. There are genes for early onset death from heart attack, and genes for reactions to anesthesia. I know many smokers who are able to consume enormous amounts of caffeine and go right to sleep. It seems unfair. However, our bodies use CYP1A2 to break down poisons. Smoking turns on this gene, so those who smoke can often tolerate more caffeine, because they have this enzyme active to help break it down. Speaking of poisons, we also have snps that can lead to poor detoxification in general.
Genes and Detoxification
What if we could predict risk of vaccine injury based on genes? We know enzymes help us process the toxic substances found in vaccines, like mercury and aluminum (Hamborsky, Kroger, and Wolfe 2015). What if you knew your child had several variants suggesting they were not programmed to detox well? Would you be more likely to feed them organic (no pesticides) and vaccinate them more slowly?
Understanding genetic variants might also be particularly more useful to my generation than to the last. My generation—those of us who grew up after the rise of the technology era—has been bombarded with more electromagnetic chaos from technology than the generations that came before us, and from a younger age. Look at school-age children now, who are being exposed to Wi-Fi before they’re even in preschool. We now have the largest burden of pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified foods (GMOs). Many of us have mercury in our mouths, and have been exposed to chemicals and industrial toxins in our personal care products, at our jobs, and maybe even in the womb; we’ve been exposed to the highest amount of vaccines, and we are the most stressed out any generation has been. Our toxic environment now has a bigger impact on our genes than ever before. As Bob Miller from NutriGenetic Research Institute states, “In all likelihood, those with the weakest genetics unfortunately get impacted first … the worst!”
Testing tells you where your predispositions are. Maybe you need more glutathione? If you know you’ve inherited several genetic variants for glutathione, the master antioxidant and detoxifier, then you know that you likely don’t detox well, so you would know not to expose yourself to toxins on a daily basis. You may consider changing your occupation from painting or welding to something with less toxic exposure. If you knew you inherited several genetic variants for poor histamine breakdown, you could then choose to avoid foods high in
histamine. Can you see how lifestyle becomes so important? Some of us inherit one or two bad copies of a gene, which means we are already set up for poor enzyme function. Add to this poor gut health and malabsorption of nutrients leading to nutritional deficiencies, and you may have even worse enzyme function, since you don’t have the fuel—the cofactors—for that enzyme to work. Genetic testing is a way to find out if there is something important you need that you may not be making enough of. We can then test for that nutrient to confirm your need and give it to you.
Isn’t that a brilliant concept?
Several genetic variants can predispose an individual to poor detoxification, including SOD2, SOD3, CAT, and PON1.
SOD2 genes make superoxise dismutase (SOD) inside of cells, whereas SOD3 makes it outside of cells. SOD turns the free radical superoxide into H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide), which is then turned into water and oxygen by glutathione and catalase. If that process doesn’t occur—that is, if SOD doesn’t neutralize the free radicals—the free radicals can combine with nitric oxide and create the dangerous oxidizing agent peroxynitrite. Having these variants reduces SOD, and can potentially increase oxidative stress. That can lead to damaged proteins, molecules, and genes within the body, and can eventually lead to chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease. Remember that oxidative stress ages you. When oxidative stress occurs, your cells can literally die. Studies have shown that high oxidative stress can lead to gray hair. Patients with oxidative stress often have low glutathione. The CAT gene instructs our bodies to make an enzyme called catalase.
Catalase is a key antioxidant enzyme in the body’s defense against oxidative stress. Variants increase an individual’s oxidative stress. Individuals with oxidative stress can benefit from taking antioxidants, specifically SOD and catalase. Catalase, along with glutathione, is also involved in breaking down hydrogen peroxide. If an individual has some genetic issues that cause iron and/or copper to be out of balance, these minerals can combine with the hydrogen peroxide and create very dangerous hydroxyl radicals, which can do quite a bit of harm.
Some genes can tell if an individual can’t clear herbicides and pesticides well. I’ve actually had a few patients who had every single Paraoxonase 1 (PON1) variant. One young woman felt like she was reacting or detoxing every time she ate, when the foods in fact weren’t the problem—the pesticides were. She will need to eat organic the rest of her life. PON1 protects you against organophosphates (pesticides), helping you detoxify them. This activity is low in newborns, meaning that they are more susceptible to pesticides and thus should be fed organic. If you have several PON1 variants, your ability to detoxify from pesticides may not be optimal. Selenium, vitamins C and E, resveratrol, blueberries, curcumin, and pomegranate are natural agents to promote this gene. Low selenium, high organophosphates like Roundup, lead, and mercury inhibit this gene. It has been associated with ADHD, ALS, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease (Lynch 2014).
How do you know if you have these variants? Take a simple test through 23andme.com can map your entire genome. Then, find a provider like myself who can help you work through your newly found data!
Check out Chapter 5 in my book Your Longevity Blueprint which discusses many steps you can take to detox your body and reduce your toxin exposure and watch for future blog on detoxing!