I know, I know. Big long words that sound boring; but these are REALLY important so let me steal a few minutes of your time to tell you why.
Environmental toxins are harming our kids. They are harming us. They are everywhere. This ubiquitous threat touches the lives of 1 in 6 children in the form of developmental delay; it contributes to autoimmune diseases and cancer. And 1 in 9 couples, feels this threat acutely as they struggle with fertility. I could fill the page with terrifying studies and lists of environmental toxins that have been linked to chronic health issues but… I am going to skip the gloom and doom and tell you how you can protect yourself and your family.
So, let’s start with EPIGENETICS. What is it and how does it affect you and your loved ones:
Epigenetics investigates changes to genes caused by toxins that can be passed on from grandmother to grandchild. These heritable changes impact the way genes EXPRESS themselves, not the DNA sequence itself. Research in this area is called genomics. Environmental exposure to chemicals changes how are bodies work, and this altered physiological state puts certain families at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders (AD/HD, dyslexia and autism), mental health concerns, fertility issues, autoimmune diseases, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Dementia).
I know you are dying to know where METHYLATION fits in….
Most of the research about epigenetic impact has studied the methylation cycle. When babies are developing in their mother’s bellies, they are methylating. The methylation cycle is the cycle in the body that governs development, regulation of brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, managing inflammation and removing environmental toxins. Damage to the methylation cycle can have a devastating (effect on) transgenerational (such a great word…).
Let’s use a concrete example. Meet Family A:
Great Grandma A was a smoker. Great Grandma A’s genes changed the way they were working because of the chronic exposure to cadmium. This altered gene function was passed on transgenerationally (I have been waiting months to use that term… and here it is twice in one blog!) all the way to her Great Grandson A, who we will call Son AB (B for Dad’s genes). The genes in question were in charge of managing inflammation. Now Son AB is surrounded by even more toxins, and at a younger age. His mom, Grand Daughter to a smoker, who we will call Mom A, also drank from baby bottles that contained Bisphenol A, so more of her genes are functioning differently.
After years of struggling to get pregnant because Mom A was diagnosed with a thyroid condition, Mom A and Dad B finally conceive through IVF (in vitro fertilization). Son AB is born via C-section, not because the OB had to get home for dinner but due to an emergency C-section that saved his life and the life of Mom A. Mom A breastfed for a few weeks but due to latching issues, caused by her son AB’s tongue- tie, she had to switch him to formula. Son AB starts having digestive issues with formula. He is colicky and constipated. At 10 months he develops eczema.
Mom A isn’t sleeping well. Son AB wakes up frequently to scratch his raw skin. Her stress levels are going up and because her grandmother smoked and her own mother A, Grandmother A, ate a lot of tuna (contaminated by mercury and PCBs) her ability to deal with stress with the brain chemicals, is impaired.
Back to Son AB. He begins to have issues with immune function. He isn’t able to process the A1 beta casein in the formula and starts down the path of chronic ear infections, which lead to antibiotics, which further impact his ability to deal with inflammation putting more pressure on altered gene function.
Mom A is diagnosed with post partum depression. She is put on Prozac to help support her moods. Little does she know that a genetic mutation has increased the likelihood of yeast proliferating in her intestines. So her level of B6 has always been lower than other people. Pregnancy and stress depletes her B6 levels faster than she can manage and she has difficult converting her omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to their active form which protect against post partum. As years go by, the anxiety, panic and depression continue. Her ability to regulate brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine was changed before she was born. The bioaccumulation of toxins has weakened her genetic expression and she now struggles with her mental health.
Son AB is over his chronic ear infections. He is getting easier to manage but is really hyper and has trouble going to sleep because of his inherited changes in regulating serotonin. He has also developed asthma and is on a puffer. Serotonin makes melatonin so without adequate production, getting to sleep is an issue. Son AB has a handsome dad (Dad B) who is self-employed. He had trouble in school because it was hard to sit down. He is highly successful because of his ability to hyper-focus and work with his hands. He owns his own landscaping business and uses his hyperactive nature and quick mind to his advantage. As a kid, Dad B, lived in a house with lead in the pipes. The lead damaged his METHYLATION cycle altering the genes that regulate focus and attention.
In grade 1, Son AB’s hyperactivity and focus get him flagged for possible ADHD. He is bright and energetic kid but has difficulty sitting down and focusing for long periods. In grade 3, Son AB is falling behind. He is diagnosed with ADHD and put on Vyvanse. His grades improve. His asthma is not as severe and for a few years, life is easier in the AB house. When puberty hits, those altered genes that impact serotonin and dopamine are put under more pressure. Son AB starts struggling with mood. Grandma A is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It seems unfair after years of struggling with OCD. Mom A is completely overwhelmed, she is starting to get hot flashes that are really intense and goes on another medication for panic attacks. Fearing that Son AB, because of his ADHD, will turn to recreational drugs or alcohol to manage, Mom A and Dad B act quickly and get Son AB medication to regulate mood.
ALL OF FAMILY A’s health concerns, including Son AB’s tongue -tie, are linked to damage to the methylation pathway.
What can you do to alter your gene expression in a positive way?
- Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to alter genetic expression towards managing inflammation more effectively
- Methyl folate before pregnancy, during pregnancy and during lactation
- B vitamins including methyl and hydroxyl B12
- Probiotics help breakdown food into methyl donors for the methylation pathway inside cells
- Avoidance of foods with high levels of pesticides which contain PCBs (PCBs have been linked to ADHD and Autism through epigenetic alteration of gene expression)
- Vitamin E helps to protect and repair damaged cell membranes caused by methylation impairments (think latching, speech language development, oral sensory issues with food)
- NAC – n-acetyl-cysteine – when the methylation pathway is impaired, production of the body’s master antioxidant is also impaired. This antioxidant is called glutathione. Low glutathione has been implicated in autism, ADHD, cancer, HIV, cystic fibrosis, asthma (this may not be a long enough blog to list them all…). Glutathione is REALLY REALLY REALLY (love my reallys) important. NAC helps make glutathione. It also helps deal with the changes in the brain that happen when methylation is impaired. Changes that are linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Gluten and Dairy Free diet is recommended
Dr. Sonya, Natural Care Clinic