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