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“What would you say if I told you your son’s mood and behavior problems were due to his genetics?”  – therapist of one of my patients

“Mental health can be affected by diet and stressful life events, but the dominant factor is often genetic or epigenetic differences in brain chemistry.” – William J. Walsh, PhD

What does it mean to have a mood, behavior, or learning problem due to genetics?

I have talked and written before about how the building blocks for our neurotransmitters are amino acids and other nutrients. Possibly more important though is the number and activity of transporter proteins that allow (or don’t) optimal neurotransmitter activity at synapses. Genetic expression, or production, of transporter proteins affects the activity of neurotransmitters. The most commonly talked about example of this has to do with methylation (commonly tested for with genetic testing companies such as 23&Me). Methylation of genetic material called chromatin inhibits production of some neurotransmitter transporters. Undermethylators tend to have reduced serotonin activity and a tendency for depression, whereas overmethylators can have excessive dopamine activity and a tendency for anxiety. Importantly, genetic testing for MTHFR, COMT, or other SNPs do not tell if a person is undermethylated or overmethylated.

Genes and Epigenetics

You have probably heard that having a genetic predisposition for something, for example heart disease, does not determine the eventual development of heart disease. This is true for mental health, and all of genetics as well. Genetic testing does tell you what your genetic code is, but it doesn’t tell you how your genetic code is being expressed. Epigenetics is the system that determines gene regulation and expression. Epigenetics, not genetics, tells us how a system is likely to be functioning. While epigenetic instructions are established in the womb and generally persist through life, environmental insults (ie: physical inury, illness, toxic exposures, powerful medications, emotional trauma, or a combination of influences) can alter the epigenetics through oxidative stress, in the womb or at any point in life, and this is the cause of the manifestation of many physical and mental disorders.

Nutrients Affect Genetic Expression

The good news is that there are simple blood and urine tests that can tell us how a system is functioning (expressing), and gene expression can be influenced by certain nutrients. Biochemical therapy looks for and identifies specific nutrient or chemical imbalances that are known to be the most commonly involved in a myriad of mental health diagnoses. While certain imbalances, such as being over or undermethylated, are commonly associated with anxiety and depression, respectively, it is usually not that straightforward. Every individual is unique, and most people with an existing diagnosis don’t fit neatly into one category of biochemical imbalance; rather they may involve a combination of a variety of imbalances.

High-Incidence Chemical Imbalances

  • Pyrrole Disorder

    • Pyrrole disorder (or pyroluria) is detected by the presence of elevated kryptopyrroles in the urine. This test represents a marker for functional deficiencies of Vitamin B-6 and zinc, and elevated oxidative stress.
    • Symptoms include: poor tolerance of physical and emotional stress, poor anger control, frequent mood swings, poor short term memory, reading disorder, morning nausea, absence of dream recall, frequent anger and rages, depression and high anxiety.
    • Treatments are based on the individual’s age, body weight, lab results, severity of symptoms and ability to metabolize supplements.
  • Histamine

    • Histamine is a marker for methylation status.
    • When histamine is elevated, clinical features include depression, obsessive-compulsive (OCD), perfectionism, seasonal allergies, competitiveness, and internal anxiety.
    • When histamine is too low, there is a tendency for high anxiety, panic disorder, depression, chemical and food sensitivities, music/artistic ability, and empathy for others.
  • Copper

    • Copper is an essential trace element but excessive levels are toxic to the body.
    • Copper overloads tend to lower dopamine levels and increase norepinephrine in the brain. Imbalances in these important neurotransmitters have been associated with anxiety, postpartum depression, ADHD, autism, violent behavior, paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • Zinc

    • Zinc is a trace metal essential for all forms of life.
    • It enhances behavior control to stress and helps maintain intellectual function, memory and mood levels.
    • More than 90% of persons diagnosed with depression, behavior disorder, ADHD, autism and schizophrenia exhibit depleted zinc levels.
    • Zinc deficiency has been associated with delayed growth, temper control problems, poor immune function, depression, poor wound healing, epilepsy, anxiety, neurodegenerative disorders, hormone imbalances and learning problems.

Biochemical nutrient therapy plus other therapies

There are no silver bullets. If you deal with a mental or cognitive health issue, you likely have coping mechanisms (healthy or otherwise) in place. We all have our patterns. Biochemical nutrient therapy, like other therapies such as diet, exercise, mindfulness, breathwork, herbal medicines, hydrotherapy, pharmacoptherapy, etc, is a tool – a big tool, but a tool. To get the most out of it, use it in conjunction with psychotherapy in order to learn new patterns and routines that support your mental health goals.

Work with Meghan Van Vleet ND in Boulder CO

If you are interested in this type of mental health support, please give me a call:

720-340-0193.

I am happy to work collaboratively with psychotherapists, psychiatrists, primary care providers, and other care providers.

 

Sources:

Walsh, William. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

Walsh, William J, and Malcolm Sickels. Mastering Brain Chemistry Physician Education Workshop, 27-30 Apr. 2019, Evanston, IL.

On the first Monday of the new school year I found myself taking two calls from two different schools telling me that both my kiddos were feeling crummy and needed a ride home. Yes, already. Before long, everyone in our house felt under-the-weather.

While no one wants to be sick or see their children get sick either, becoming ill from time to time is actually important. Catching a cold is an educational exercise for our immune systems. The ability to mount an appropriate healing response is a sign of good health. While getting sick all the time is problematic, getting sick occasionally is reassuring and an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and reassess.

As a naturopathic doctor with two kids and a partner that works in the public school system as well, my family has ample opportunity to contract illness. Given that, I still aim for prevention. Healthy lifestyle habits go a long way to minimize risk, and decrease the severity and duration when illness does strike. Here are my recommendations to weather this cold and flu season well.

  • SLEEP: Sleep is critical to overall health and immune system function. Make sure that you and your family members prioritize the appropriate amount of sleep.
  • HYGIENE:
    • Wash your hands. Whenever anyone comes home from work or school, make sure they wash hands upon entering the house. Note that research is conclusive: old fashioned soap and water work just as well as antimicrobial soap or hand sanitizer and have the added benefit of not being harmful to us (carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor, create lethal superbugs).
    • Remind yourself and your kids how to effectively cover your cough and sneezes: Use the crook of your elbow, not your hand.
    • Keep the house on the cooler side as germs like warm environments.
    • Air out the house briefly (ie: open up all the windows and maybe doors) daily or at least weekly, even in the cold of winter.
  • EXERCISE: Regular moderate exercise enhances immunity.
  • GO OUTSIDE: Whether this is for exercise specifically or just to get out, do it. Fresh air and sunlight is good for us. Cold air is not bad for us. Dress and layer comfortably for the weather and keep your neck and ears warm. If you have a young child, dress them the way you dress to keep comfortable; i.e., if you get cold and put your hood up, put theirs up too.
  • HYDRATION: Sufficient water intake is critical to every function in our body, not the least of which is expelling pathogens. Being adequately hydrated can tip the scale from successfully staving off full-blown illness or succumbing to it.
  • DIET: A whole foods diet supports optimal health. Highly processed foods or “food-like substances,” and those with added sugar, actually suppress your immune system.
  • STRESS: Throughout these months when life doesn’t slow down and we are additionally exposed to so many pathogens, it is more important than ever to have routine coping mechanisms such as mindfulness, breath work, and yoga  – as well as any other exercises or activities that bring you joy.
  • SUPPLEMENTATION: I am not actually a big fan of taking supplements myself or for my children, however, you may find us taking them this time of year:
    • PROBIOTICS: Ideally, you will be consuming probiotics in the food you eat – from your garden or the farm your food came from, from yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, and any other of the varieties of fermented foods now available at many grocery stores. If you feel like you are not good at getting probiotics into your diet, consider taking a potent probiotic supplement.
    • VITAMIN C: Vitamin C helps prevent and/or reduce the duration of the common cold (Note: It only works as prevention if you regularly take it). Food sources of vitamin C include: papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe, and cauliflower.
    • ZINC: Zinc also helps reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, and many people are deficient in zinc. Food sources include: beef, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, cashews, turkey, quinoa, and shrimp.
    • BLACK ELDERBERRY: Taken as a syrup or even better as a warm tea, this is a delicious fall and wintertime routine. Black elderberry is an antiviral useful in preventing the flu.
    • TULSI TEA: This is a readily available (at most grocery stores) herbal tea that helps your body simply adapt to the various stressors of life, including a change in season. For best results, drink it daily.

Here’s to our beautiful weather, and may you weather it beautifully!

If you feel run down or need immune system support, please call to make an appointment.

720-340-0193 or Book Now