Lately in the news genetic changes and what is known as, epigenetics, has been all the rage. What is epigenetics and how is the environment able to mutate changes? We are exposed to a myriad of toxins, chemicals, negative thoughts, fillers and pollution every day. Our bodies possess an amazing ability to seek out and destroy any formidable enemy, however, if our immune systems are weakened or if a predator slips by, our repair systems may go awry, causing eventual point mutations or changes in our DNA. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the nutrients we absorb, the thoughts we think all affect overall health. Science has now proven that many of those experiences have the potential to interact with our own unique “recipe” of genes. You may be predisposed or have genes susceptible for heart disease but if the environment does not support this then you won’t have heart attacks. This can also occur with mental health issues. You may be predisposed to a nervous condition or obsessive compulsive disorder but if your life becomes stressful enough, you may manifest this predisposition.
But why are our genes changing at such a rapid rate?
We live longer nowadays but are sicker. I routinely see patients who request to be weaned off some of their 20 different medications. When did it become acceptable to put our elders or sick population on a drug for every issue rather than investigating that said issue? The truth of the matter is that most healthcare practitioners are not educated in what to look for beyond labs and medications. They are also pushed to the limit and often don’t have the time to fully and properly care for an ill patient. Guess what else? Procedure based therapies pay in conventional medicine. Doctors don’t get reimbursed for providing knowledgable and lasting information to their patients. They get paid by performing cardiac stents, biopsies or other procedure based therapies. Therefore many patients are left in the dark and blindly trust the system.
So what can be done? First and foremost, patients must become proactive. They can no longer sit on the side lines and hope for the mainstream to provide an answer to what ails them. It is time for everyone to become their own best doctor. If you are diagnosed with a chronic condition, cancer or an illness, be sure to investigate genetic markers and changes that may have made you susceptible to the physical disease.
How do we know that we are more toxic?
One in three people will now develop cancer. This was unheard of 50 years ago. HPV now affects 50% of women. Autism now affects 1 in 65 children. Thats a 30% increase from 2 years ago when it was 1 in 88! Yikes. Moreover, babies now are born more toxic than our grandparents were at their time of birth. In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group in collaboration with Commonweal, an average of 200 chemicals and pollutants were found in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in US hospitals across the country. So what has changed?
In the field of epigenetics, made famous by Dr Bruce Lipton, environmental toxins have been shown to mutate or activate/deactivate certain single nucleotides on the gene. These changes or polymorphisms, can cause symptoms in some and not manifest into disease in others depending on their environment. One of the biggest single nucleotide polymorphisms tested in most integrative medical clinics is MTHFR, an acronym standing for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. It is not only an enzyme but the same name is used for the gene. Fancy huh?
Sequelae from the MTHFR mutation cause a slew of health problems. Some examples can be miscarriages, depression, bipolar disorder, neurological, mental, muscular and chemical sensitivities.
A healthy MTHFR gene produces a surplus of functioning MTHFR enzyme. If the gene is mutated, the enzyme produced will be partially defective. People with a mutation of the MTHFR gene cannot properly convert folate into the biologically active and useful form called L-methylfolate which is needed for many essential processes including the manufacturing of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. This means that many times the cycle is halted and instead of making methionine and continuing the cycle, homocysteine builds up. High levels of homocysteine are linked to cardiac disease and many inflammatory disorders. However, some people that test positive for MTHFR do not show physical signs. Others are plagued with illness. Some also do not have elevated homocysteine levels while many do. This is thought to be due to the fact that the cycle shuffles the excess homocysteine down an accessory pathway where it depletes a very important master antioxidant called glutathione.
What is Glutathione?
Reduced levels of this antioxidant are associated with cancer, cystic fibrosis, neurodegenerative conditions, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, autism and bipolar disorder. Since glutathione is an antioxidant, having low levels of it means that toxins and oxidative stress become elevated, leading to disease. Many of the symptoms of MTHFR are identical to the symptoms of low glutathione in the body. However, glutathione does naturally decrease with age.
Glutathione comes from our diets as well as being made in the body. However, you need ATP and other precursors from the Krebs cycle to make glutathione, but if you are chronically ill, this becomes a vicious cycle. Mitochondrial dysfunction causes depletion of glutathione, which then causes further mitochondrial dysfunction. This is so detrimental as this is the main pathway used to make energy for the body.
Consider Glutathione’s Functions in the Body:
- 1. Glutathione’s antioxidant abilities help to mop up free radicals that can damage our cells and mitochondria.
- 2. Glutathione is a major antioxidant that helps to detoxify the liver and to make bile aiding in digestion.
- 3. Glutathione is essential for immune function and for reducing inflammation.
- 4. Glutathione is also helpful for the protection of B12.
- 5. Glutathione detoxes heavy metals.
Personally I can say that IV and lipsomal glutathione have changed my life.
Even Dr. Van Konynenberg said about low glutathione in patients:
“Oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and low ATP output, reduced cardiac output, toxin and heavy metal build-up, immune dysfunction, reactivation of herpes virus infections, thyroid problems, low cysteine-containing secretory proteins, high daily urine volumes, low natural killer and CD8 cells, high methylmalonate, partial methylation cycle blocks, fatigue, neuropathy, lowered synthesis of choline, creatine, carnitine, CoQ10, slow brain processing speed, high FIGLU in urine, low red and white blood cell counts, hair loss, poor digestion and absorption and other symptoms.”
People with the MTHFR mutation cannot properly clear toxins due to improper methylation and declining glutathione. It is now estimated that up to 40% of the population has some form of MTHFR. A heterozygous mutation means that only one copy is mutated (you get two copies-one from your dad and one from your mom.) Homozygous means both copies from each parent is mutated.
So now that you know how important glutathione and MTHFR are, you can see why practitioners are so hurried to understand genetic testing and how we can best help our ailing patients. Here are some tips:
- Folic acid needs to be avoided by ANYONE who is homozygous for MTHFR. They cannot convert this over to the methylated form for use and this is what is built up and converted to homocysteine. Supplement with methylfolate and at a higher dose as they clot easier due to elevations in homocysteine. They now add folic acid to fortified food so be vigilant about this as well. Safe options for those with MTHFR include methylfolate or methylcobalamin.
- Precursors and cofactors to glutathione include IV glutathione, liposomal glutathione which has shown to have equal absorption rates, N-aceytl-cysteine, B2, B3, B5, vitamin C, selenium, nicotinamide, niacin, alpha lipoic acid, foods containing glutathione.
- Be sure to measure Homocysteine and B12 levels if you are diagnosed with MTHFR.
- Get on an non inflammatory diet stat that builds up the microtome-no gluten, no dairy, no wheat, no processed foods, no GMO, limit meat and if you do eat it then eat free range, grass fed and organic.
- Remove all mercury amalgams.
- Avoid birth control, methotrexate, and antacids that block the absorption of folic acid and vitamin B12 respectively.
- Coffee enemas to help the liver detox. Remember adding glutathione and milk thistle is imperative.
One rule of thumb that most practitioners agree on is that unless a patient presents with symptoms, it is ok not to aggressively treat them. However, it is my belief that nearly everyone can benefit from glutathione, as so many have MTHFR and are deficient.