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Bigger than genes

MagazineDecember 2014 (Vol. 25 Issue 9)Bigger than genes

New work by scientists on epigenetics shows that the true master switch to your genes and your health is a little-known process called methylation

New work by scientists on epigenetics shows that the true master switch to your genes and your health is a little-known process called methylation.

the latest work in epigenetics demonstrates that your genes are just blueprints-they do not dictate whether or not you can create a state of good health. In fact, environment and perception can actually change your genes. Some doctors refer to epigenetics as "a second chance that allows the body to make changes to its genes", and this second chance is made possible through methylation.
1 According to Dr Mark Hyman, American physician and best-selling author of numerous books, including 10-Day Detox Diet (New York City, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2014), methylation is a biochemical process that occurs billions of times every second, affecting just about every system in the human body, and one that is essential for health and longevity. 1 According to Hyman, methylation is a set of processes that work hand in hand to give your body what it needs for optimal brain and body health. You can understand why when you see that methylation is involved in important processes such as gene expression, building energy, mood and stress chemicals in the brain, digestion, detoxification, nervous system function, mobilization of fat and cholesterol,
hormone control and production, allergic responses, cellular function, homocysteine regulation, and the production and repair of proteins (including collagen and elastin). Problems with methylation can contribute to a wide and seemingly unrelated set of health issues, including birth defects (such as spina bifida and Down's syndrome), miscarriage, diabetes, osteoporosis, gut dysbiosis, fibromyalgia, cancer, depression and other mood disorders, and addictions.

2, 3 One of the more talked-about methylation defects is called MTHFR, which stands for 'methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase'. MTHFR is estimated to affect more than 40 per cent of the population, but there are several other defects that also play a role in methylation problems. 2 If you or a loved one has a chronic health condition, autoimmune disease, an addiction or autism, or if you find that you aren't improving despite many efforts, you might consider getting tested for methylation. defects. Women wishing to conceive a child may also wish to be tested. The best way to do this is to work with a doctor familiar with MTHFR and related methylation-pathway challenges. Your doctor may recommend a methylation-pathway blood test or direct you to a saliva test that you can get yourself by mail from 23andme.com.

The test you receive from 23andMe is a genetic one that provides information on your ancestry and your other DNA, including methylation genes. It's helpful to work with a doctor or qualified health practitioner to interpret the results, as 23andMe provides them to you as 'raw health data', which means you receive a bunch of letters and numbers (like 'rs4477212'). Such raw data are difficult for lay people to make sense of, so companies like LiveWello (LiveWello.com) have developed online technology applications to take the 23andMe raw data and put it into a more organized report. While many people are choosing to go this route for genetic testing, the data you receive can still be confusing. If you have a health background or are a skilled researcher, you can learn a lot about your own genetic health with a combination of the 23andMe saliva test and the LiveWello report. However, it takes a knowledgeable practitioner to interpret the data and help to identify a natural health, nutrition and lifestyle protocol based on your genetic blueprint and the symptoms you are experiencing. (To find a list of doctors around the world who understand MTHFR and related methylation challenges, go to Dr Ben Lynch's website, www.MTHFR.net, and select 'find a doctor'.)

Diet, thoughts and lifestyle Methylation is an interesting and fairly new 'hot topic' in health and medical circles. Much of the conversation is about gene defects and how to resolve gene expression, or symptoms. What's fascinating is that, for most people with methylation problems, the prescription is to 'heal the gut'. A healthy diet is one of the most critical ways to support methylation, and many people with methylation issues have digestive issues too. It may not surprise you to hear the additional recommendations for improving methylation: get plenty of sleep, reduce stress, exercise . . . all the 'basics' that we've heard over the years, regardless of the latest trends.

Besides genes, here's what impacts methylation
Methylation is important for everyone to understand because it can be adversely affected for reasons besides genetic expression. For example, the following factors also contribute to methylation
issues:
o Poor diet
o Poor gut health (low stomach acid,
malabsorption of food/nutrients)
o Smoking
o Alcohol abuse
o Medications (birth control pills, acid-
blockers, high-blood-pressure medication,
and medications for cancer, arthritis and
autoimmune issues)
o Conditions like cancer, kidney issues and
low thyroid
o Pregnancy
o Toxins (in food, water and the
environment)
o Stress (chronic stress can even affect the
genes of future generations).

1 All this boils down to the fact that healthy food and healthy thoughts are the keys to wellness. Processed food has a negative effect on methylation Since 1998, the US government has mandated that folic acid (synthetic folate or vitamin B9) be added to flour and other processed cereal and grain products. The government chose to regulate this because folate deficiencies in pregnant women led to babies being born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. 2 While statistics for neural tube defects began to fall, other methylation issuescropped up that seemed unrelated because no one knew about MTHFR at the time. In someone who is among the more than 40 per cent of people who have the MTHFR defect, they most likely cannot break down
folic acid.

In one recent study of women who took folic acid (synthetic folate) and ate folic acid- enriched foods (processed flour and grain products), unmetabolized folic acid was found in 78 per cent of the participants. 3 Unmetabolized folic acid causes the following symptoms:
o Low immunity
o Anaemia, memory problems and
cognitive impairment from B12 deficiency
masked by folate levels that are too high
o Higher incidences and development of
certain cancers
o Neural tube defects. 4 (Yes, the folic acid
added to processed grain products can
actually contribute to neural tube defects
in babies with the MTHFR gene defect.

This is problematic for pregnant women who don't know they have an MTHFR variant and are prescribed a folic acid supplement during pregnancy.) The US Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) has guidelines for how much folic acid is safe to consume in processed foods, but it's not likely that the average person either knows what these levels are or is aware of exactly how much of it is being eaten as they go through the day. In addition, taking a B-complex vitamin supplement, a multivitamin or any supplement containing folic acid just adds to the problem for someone with MTHFR.

We suggest avoiding folic acid in foods and supplements and, instead, focus on getting folate from healthy greens (romaine lettuce, parsley, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens and turnip
greens), asparagus, lentils, cauliflower and beets. Some people may need to supplement due to pregnancy or gut issues; in that case, using the active form of folate-called methylfolate-is better than folic acid. People with MTHFR are able to process methylfolate. You can also look for methylfolate supplements, such as L-5-MTHF (important for avoiding racemic forms), Quatrefolic (glucosamine form), Metafolin (calcium form), l -methylfolate and 6(S)-5-methylfolate. We highly recommend that you carefully research and/or work with a knowledgeable practitioner before starting a methylation protocol. When your body starts methylating again, you may have symptoms or need to make adjustments, and it will help to have guidance for how to modify your protocol.
RefeRences 1 Coghlan A. 'Stress can affect future generations' genes'. New Scientist, 25 January 2013; www. newscientist.com/article/dn23109-stress- can-affect-future-generations-genes.html#. VE_mBd4TH8s
2 Am J Clin Nutr, 2007; 85: 3-5
3 J Nutr, 2006; 136: 189-94
4 The world's healthiest foods. Folate; www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=635 McDaniel L, rn. 'What is the Gut-Brain Connection?'Connect WC; www.connectwc.org/what-is-the-gut-brain-connection.html
6 Hurley D. 'Your Backup Brain'. Psychology Today, 1 November 2011; Nordqvist C. 'Eating Fat When Sad Really Does Lift Mood'. MNT; www. medicalnewstoday.com/articles/231764.php

Your second brain
Today, more studies are showing that food affects mood and that gut health has a big impact on disease, including osteoporosis, autism, depression and autoimmune conditions. Three studies have further highlighted the gut-brain connection. 1 What you put in your stomach can change your mood. A study by Belgian scientists found that eating fat has the power to lift our emotional state and make us feel happier. 1 This is why people go for comfort food when they're upset. 2 Chronic stress can create gut-to-brain cravings. Studies in mice showed that, under chronic social stress (like trauma from abuse or bullying), mice go for high-fat, high-calorie foods and gain more weight than their less- stressed counterparts. 2 The researchers also found that it was the gut telling the brain what to eat and not the other way around. Under stress, the brain produces ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger in the brain. Ghrelin makes food more exciting to the
brain, especially when it's high in fat and calories. 3 Your diet influences your gut bacteria, and your gut bacteria influence your brain. According to neuroscientists, the good bacteria in the gut-what they call 'the gut microbiome'-act like auxiliary DNA.

Essentially, what you eat controls the makeup of your gut bacteria, and these bacteria can change how your genes function. In other words, if you're eating a diet that promotes healthy gut bacteria, they in turn can influence a healthy body, regardless of your genetic predispositions. 3 defects. Women wishing to conceive a child may also wish to be tested. The best way to do this is to work with a doctor familiar with MTHFR and related methylation-pathway challenges. Your doctor may recommend a methylation-pathway blood test or direct you to a saliva test that you can get yourself by mail from 23andme.com. The test you receive from 23andMe is a genetic one that provides information on your ancestry and your other DNA, including methylation genes. It's helpful to work with a doctor or qualified health practitioner to interpret the results, as 23andMe provides them to you as 'raw
health data', which means you receive a bunch of letters and numbers (like 'rs4477212'). Such raw data are difficult for lay people to make sense of, so companies like LiveWello (LiveWello.com)
have developed online technology applications to take the 23andMe raw data and put it into a more organized report. While many people are choosing to go this route for genetic testing, the data you receive can still be confusing. If you have a health background or are a skilled researcher, you can learn a lot about your own genetic health with a combination of the 23andMe saliva test and the LiveWello report.

However, it takes a knowledgeable practitioner to interpret the data and help to identify a natural health, nutrition and lifestyle protocol based on your genetic blueprint and the symptoms you
are experiencing. (To find a list of doctors around the world who understand MTHFR and related methylation challenges, go to Dr Ben Lynch's website, www.MTHFR.net, and select 'find a
doctor'.) Diet, thoughts and lifestyle Methylation is an interesting and fairly new 'hot topic' in health and medical circles. Much of the conversation is about gene defects and how to resolve gene expression, or symptoms. What's fascinating is that, for most people with methylation problems, the prescription is to 'heal the gut'. A healthy diet is one of the most critical ways to support methylation, and many people with methylation issues have digestive issues too. It may not surprise you to hear the additional recommendations for improving methylation: get plenty of sleep, reduce stress, exercise . . . all the 'basics' that we've heard over the years, regardless of the latest trends.
RefeRenCes
1 J Clin Invest, 2011; 121: 3094-9
2 J Clin Invest, 2011; 121: 2684-92
3 Carpenter S. 'That gut feeling'. American Psychological Association, 2012; 43: 50; www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx

Now, there are vitamin and mineral supplement recommendations as well, but very few prescription medications are available. The focus on optimizing methylation might encourage mainstream medicine to embrace nutrition and lifestyle recommendations that have shown success, rather than pharmaceutical drugs. It would not be at all surprising if pharmaceutical companies start to create drugs to improve methylation, but we are excited to see more scientists and medical professionals teaching their patients how diet and lifestyle can improve their health dramatically.
Although it's currently rare to find medical doctors who work with patients to correct diseases associated with methylation defects, we are seeing more of them emerge. These doctors
are excited about the successes their patients are having with all-natural supplements, nutrition and lifestyle changes like stress reduction. We are even seeing scientists talk about
epigenetics and the work of Bruce Lipton, who described this new science in his book The Biology of Belief (Hay House, 2005) and how having a more positive mental outlook can improve
methylation. Digestive health and your brain Have you ever had a gut feeling? Or felt butterflies in your stomach? If so, then you have experienced the gut-brain connection.

Some experts once believed that issues in the brain should be handled separately from the gut, but more research is showing that if you want to improve your moods, memory and brain function, then look to the health of your gut. There's a good reason why. Let's start as early as conception, when a baby is an embryo. During this stage, a clump of embryonic tissue separates
into two parts: one becomes the brain (the central nervous system, comprising the brain and spinal cord) and the other becomes the gut (your digestive system and its enteric nervous system). 5 Connecting your brain and gut is the vagus nerve-like a telephone line, this carries messages from the brain to the gut and vice versa. It's also how the bacteria in your gut speak to your brain. Michael Gershon, professor and chair of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, has done groundbreaking work on how the gut's brain, or enteric nervous system Vitamin B12: the master key While all nutrients are important, there are some that stand out because of the sheer number of systems they support in the body. One of these is vitamin B12 (also called cobalamin).

B12 has been given its master-key status by researchers because it plays a functional role in a long list of organ systems and can be used to correct problems caused by other issues, even when B12 levels are only adequate. 1 Some medical professionals are calling B12 deficiency a 'silent epidemic' because even low-normal levels can cause symptoms. A Tufts University study of B12
levels in participants between the ages of 26 and 83 showed that nearly 40 per cent of participants were "low normal," 16 per cent had a near deficiency and 9 per cent were deficient. 2
While low B12 and B12 deficiency can happen at any age, it's most common among the elderly, vegans and vegetarians. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of long-term vegans and over 50 per cent of long-term vegetarians who don't supplement with B12 are deficient. 2 People with eating disorders, anaemia, autoimmune disorders, infertility, diabetes or a history of alcoholism-or those with gut issues such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or Crohn's, or low stomach acid or those who regularly use antacids-could be at risk of low or deficient levels of B12. 2

Here are some of the symptoms of B12 deficiency.

o Abnormal sensations (tremor, tingling,
muscle spasms)
o Chronic fatigue
o Deep vein thrombosis
o Diarrhoea or constipation
o Digestive pain (poor digestion, feeling full
or bloated)
o Generalized weakness (weak arms or legs,
difficulty walking)
o Heart attack, coronary artery disease or
congestive heart failure
o Incontinence
o Infertility
o Loss of appetite, weight loss or anorexia
o Mood issues (depression, irritability,
apathy, paranoia)
o Memory issues and dementia
o Osteoporosis
o Palpitations
o Paralysis
o Premature grey hair
o Pulmonary
embolism
o Shortness of breath
o Stroke or transient ischaemic
attacks (TIAs, or 'mini-strokes')
o Tinnitus
o Vision changes or optic nerve damage
o Vitiligo. 3

If you think you have a B12 deficiency, talk to your health practitioner. Keep in mind that doctors may not recognize the value of B12 testing, so you might need to work with a naturopathic doctor. The urinary methylmalonic acid (MMA) test is the best one to get if you do decide to get tested. Bear in mind that some people with certain genetic mutations that adversely
affect methylation could have tests showing false-normal or false-high B12 levels due to something called 'methyl trapping'. The bottom line is, if you feel you have vitamin B12 deficiency, work with a health practitioner who can guide you through testing, interpret the test results against your symptoms and offer supplementation options. If you do need supplements, you'll likely want to look into the active forms of B12, namely methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin (also called dibencozide). These forms are the most bioavailable and can be obtained in sublingual form or as shots (at the time of writing, adenosylcobalamin is no longer available as an injection, but it may return to the marketplace in future).

Because dosages are different for everyone (some people need to start low and slow, others need higher doses), we recommend that you work with a knowledgeable practitioner who can
identify the type and dose of B12 that is right for you.
RefeRences
1 J Nippon Med Sch, 2006; 73: 65-9
2 Pacholok SM, Jeffrey JS. Could It Be B12? An
Epidemic of Misdiagnosis. Sanger, CA: Quill
Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, Inc., 20053
3 Lipski E. Digestive Wellness, 3rd edn. New York,
NY: McGraw Hill, 2004

Magnesium
If vitamin B12 is the master-key vitamin when it comes to health and healing, then magnesium is the master-key mineral. Depending on which studies you read, magnesium is responsible for between 300 to 800 enzyme-driven processes in the body, including:
o Activates muscles and nerves
o Aids digestion
o Boosts moods (including reducing
depression and anxiety)
o Can prevent blood clots
o Creates energy
o Helps with detoxification, including
heavy metals
o May prevent or eliminate GERD/
heartburn/reflux
o Protects bones and teeth
o Relieves headaches and migraines
o Prevents premenstrual syndrome
(PMS)
o Promotes better sleep and may
alleviate sleep apnoea
o Supports kidney, bladder, bowel
and liver health.

1 Magnesium is so important for so many functions of the body that you're likely to see it listed as a remedy for a wide range of health issues. Chronic shortages According to Dr Carolyn Dean,
author of The Magnesium Miracle (Ballantine Books, 2006), an estimated 80 per cent of Americans are deficient in magnesium. This is no surprise when you learn that the mineral is burned big time when you're under stress. The more stressed you are, the more magnesium you're likely to need. Here are some important facts from Dr Dean.
o Magnesium is farmed out of the soil much more than calcium. As Dr Dean explains, "A hundred years ago, we enjoyed a diet high in magnesium with a daily intake of 500 mg of magnesium in an ordinary diet. Today we are lucky to get 200 mg."
o People do need to supplement with magnesium. After all, two out of three Americans do not consume the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for magnesium, which is 500 mg/day.
o Calcium has been touted as an important mineral to take regularly; however, many experts are now backing away from that recommendation because new information is showing
that we get enough calcium from food. These days, without supplementation, the standard diet is too low in magnesium and too high in calcium, with the amount of calcium 10 times that of
magnesium. This can contribute to a lot of health problems. Too much calcium with too little magnesium can lead to arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis, hardened arteries and heart disease.
o Vitamin D requires magnesium to be metabolized, so if you're taking a high dose of vitamin D and you're magnesium-deficient, you could be putting your body into even greater deficiency.

The chart on the right presents the stages of magnesium deficiency from stage 1, with mild magnesium- deficiency symptoms, to stage 4, with life-threatening magnesium- deficiency symptoms. The good news is that, once you're aware of your status, there are steps you can take to replenish your body with magnesium. Getting tested Another helpful test is the Mag RBC test, which is a blood test to check your magnesium levels. If you get your Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) first, a good practitioner should be able to let you know if the Mag RBC test is necessary for
additional diagnostics. If you wish to get a Mag RBC test, ask your doctor, or order one online at Requestatest. com and have your blood drawn inyour local area (choose a local lab from a list when purchasing your blood test). In the UK, these tests are available from the Biolab Medical Unit in Central London (tel: 020 7636 5959/5905; www.biolab.co.uk).

Magnesium contraindications If you suffer from kidney failure, bowel obstruction, heart blockage or myasthenia gravis, do not take magnesium. Also, if you are taking any heart medication, talk to your doctor first before taking this mineral because it may reduce your need for medication, and you'll want your doctor to help you track this. You may also need to create a plan with
your doctor for how much time to wait between taking your heart or blood-pressure medication and your magnesium. Symptoms of stages of magnesium deficiency* Stage 1:
Mild daily challenge Fatigue Anxiety & panic attacks Arteriosclerosis Alcoholism Constipation Arthritis Blood clots ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) Dizziness (vertigo) Asthma Bowel disease Alzheimer's disease Dysmenorrhoea (excessive menstrual pain) Facial twitches Backache, upper back: Food cravings (especially sugar, caffeine, simple carbs) Headaches Cystitis Cerebral palsy Eclampsia
Heart palpitations Ear infections Chronic kidney disease Emphysema (COPD) Hiccups Gluten sensitivity Concussion Myocardial infarction Hyperglycaemia Hyperlipidaemia (high Hypoglycaemia Hypertension Diabetes Parkinson's disease Irritability Insomnia Epilepsy/seizures Renal failure Loss of appetite Insulin resistance Mood swings Migraines Failure to thrive Starvation
Muscle cramps, spasms Multiple pregnancies Nausea Nerve problems Hormonal imbalance Sudden cardiac death Nervousness Obesity Hyperparathyroid Ventricular fibrillation
Poor memory/ concentration Pregnancy (exacerbates magnesium deficiency) Raynaud's syndrome Poor concentration Liver disease Weakness Prediabetes, insulin

RefeRences
1 Lipski E. Digestive Wellness, 3rd edn. New
York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2004

Stage 2: Greater daily challenge
Stage 3: Severe daily symptoms
Stage 4: Life-threatening challenge

Fatigue Anxiety & panic attacks Arteriosclerosis Alcoholism Constipation Arthritis Blood clots ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) Dizziness (vertigo) Asthma Bowel disease Alzheimer's disease ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) Calcified mitral valve (mitral valve prolapse) Cancer (breast, colon, prostate) Facial twitches Backache, upper back: excess cortisol Chronic fatigue
syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis) Atrial fibrillation Backache, lower back: emotional Coeliac disease Congestive heart failure Headaches Cystitis Cerebral palsy Eclampsia Heart palpitations Ear infections Chronic kidney disease Emphysema (COPD) Hiccups Gluten sensitivity Concussion Myocardial infarction Hyperglycaemia Hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol, triglycerides) Depression Obesity Hypoglycaemia Hypertension Diabetes Parkinson's disease Irritability Insomnia Epilepsy/seizures Renal failure Loss of appetite Insulin resistance (prediabetes) Endothelial dysfunction
(dysfunction of blood vessel inner walls) SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) Mood swings Migraines Failure to thrive Starvation Muscle cramps, spasms Multiple pregnancies (exacerbates magnesium deficiency) Heart arrhythmias Stroke Nausea Nerve problems Hormonal imbalance Sudden cardiac death Nervousness Obesity Hyperparathyroid Ventricular fibrillation
Osteopenia (precursor to osteoporosis)

Hypothyroid
Premenstrual syndrome Kidney disease Raynaud's syndrome Poor concentration Liver disease Weakness Prediabetes, insulin resistance Metabolic syndrome Sinusitis Miscarriage Temporomandibular joint disorder Mitral valve prolapse (calcified mitral valve) Weight gain (especially at waist) Multiple sclerosis Obesity, severe Osteoporosis * Reprinted with permission from Morley Robbins (GotMag.Org/magnesium-deficiency-101) (ENS), works. 6 Here are a few key facts.
o The ENS is embedded in your entire
digestive tract, from mouth to anus.
o It relies on, and in many cases creates,
more than 30 neurotransmitters that are
identical to those in the brain (serotonin is
one of these).
o Approximately 70 to 80 per cent of your
immune system is located in your gut.
This makes sense because your digestive
system has a big job. It takes in food, water
and bacteria from the outside world and
transforms it into nutrients to grow, repair
and maintain the human body. This is the
true definition of the old adage, "You are
what you eat."
o Approximately 90 per cent of the body's
serotonin is located in your gut. Serotonin
helps regulate mood, sleep and learning,
and can influence your happiness and self-
esteem. Serotonin also plays a critical role
in digestion by helping to secrete enzymes
that help you digest food.
o Your gut sends signals to your brain that
directly affect feelings of sadness or stress,
even influencing learning, memory and
your ability to make decisions. In turn,
your brain's emotions affect your digestive
tract.
Anger, anxiety, sadness, joy and other emotions can trigger symptoms in your gut. The key to robust good health is honouring that connection-and your connection with your environment. Louise Hay, Ahlea Khadro and Heather Dane Excerpted from Loving Yourself to Great Health (Hay House, October 2014) by Louise Hay, Ahlea Khadro and Heather Dane Approximately 90 per
cent of the body's serotonin- which helps regulate mood, sleep and learning, and can influence your happiness and self-esteem-is located in your gut
RefeRences
1 Autism Science Digest, 2011; issue 01: 20-8
2 Lynch B. 'Improving Patient Outcomes: Identifying Common
Methylation Polymorphisms'; www.seekinghealth.com/
media/Improving-Patient-Outcomes-short-ver.pdf
3 Lynch B. 'MTHFR Basics from Dr Erlich'; http://mthfr.net/
mthfr-basics-from-dr-erlich/2012/03/01/


Medicine's war on parents

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