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A Genetic Cause of Pain and Anxiety – COMT, MAO and MTHFR

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Do you find yourself worrying excessively about the future,  about money or about fearful things in general?  Does a small amount of stress cause you to feel very stressed out?  Do you feel good while you exercise, but afterwards feel drained and worn out?  Are you easily agitated, nervous or upset?  Is your behavior erratic and combative when stressed? Do you organize your life very carefully, living with rules like careful eating and other disciplined behavior?  Do you make efforts to fix problems as soon as they show up?  Do feel you have to use meditation, prayer, yoga, or other mindful pursuits just to stay level-headed?  Are you diligent about being organized even to a fault?  If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you may have a genetic imbalance in your catecholamine neurotransmitter pathway – your dopamine, adrenalin and noradrenalin system.

The genes mainly responsible for these behaviors are called MAO-A and COMT.  People with MAO and COMT are predisposed to simply have TOO MUCH ADRENALIN in the body.  When we are born with COMT or MAO-A SNPs it means those enzymes are SLOWED DOWN in the body – current research has proven that COMT and MAO-A SNPs slow down these important chemical processes.  You can confirm if you have a problem by looking at your MTHFRsupport or LivewellO report.  If you see YELLOW or RED in those categories this means you have the SLOWER version.

Typical MTHFRSupport.com Genetic Report Showing COMT and MAO SNPs:

MAO and COMT Variants

* NOTE: for the genes shown above red or yellow means they are slowed down.

** NOTE: only one SNP needs to be present to impact these genes, although often there are multiple SNPs for COMT in a single individual.

Slowing down these enzymes will impact our lives and our behaviors because the catecholamines  – dopamine/noradrenalin/adrenalin – are broken down by the COMT and MAO enzymes.  This means that a small stressor can make us feel very stressed out.  Believe me…I know first hand because like you, I also have these genes.  It is the quest to understand WHY we feel so stressed out that has led me to uncover the genetic roots of our stressed-out state of mind.

Since the moment of conception we are programmed to respond to stress in our environment.  It is how we survive.  People with MAO and COMT have a unique ability in that they are able to produce an excess of adrenalin.  The body uses adrenalin to shift resources around during stress, aka fight or flight.  Adrenalin helps sharpen our focus, releases stored energy, increases blood pressure and muscle strength.  In fact, we are lucky to have adrenalin.  We’ve all heard about that mother who, when her child was trapped under a vehicle during a car wreck, was able to physically move the car and save the child.  Such is the power of adrenalin!

Anything that powerful must be kept under tight control, otherwise we will develop other issues that can damage our health.  Some common issues that result from too much adrenalin:

  • insomnia – people with too little catecholamines are narcoleptic, they can fall asleep anywhere; those with too many catecholamines simply can’t turn their mind off and lay awake for hours!
  • chronic pain – pain fibers become more sensitive in the presence of adrenalin, leading to syndromes like fibromyalgia and allodynia; this may cause pain just walking around the block, doing the dishes or rolling over in bed.
  • high blood pressure – adrenalin increases the rate and force of the heart; excess adrenalin will raise blood pressure – think bulging veins on side of forehead when someone is filled with rage!
  • POTS and other sympathetic disorders – while the causes of these issue may be complex, they each involve imbalances of the catecholamine stress hormones.
  • arrhythmia – excess stress placed on the heart often depletes the heart of taurine, magnesium, and nitric oxide; this causes an epilepsy-like effect on heart; that is arrhythmia should be considered a seizure of the heart.
  • excess sweating – adrenalin actives skin receptors to cause sweating; excess adrenalin often causes excess sweating.
  • tingling and numbness – excess catecholamines (adrenalin) can cause tingling and numbness on both sides of the body, in the hand and feet; this may mimick neuropathy but is just a side effect of excess adrenalin on the nervous system.
  • poor circulation – adrenalin pushes blood away from the gut and can cut off flow to the tips of our fingers; for example people with Raynaud’s phenomenon have so much adrenalin that it shuts off the flow of blood completely leaving the skin white and cold.
  • digestion problems – since adrenalin pushes blood away from the gut, people with MAO and COMT may suffer from IBS; for with less blood there is less oxygen, and we cannot properly digest our food.  Bacteria in the gut also use adrenalin to grow very rapidly.
  • OCD, anger, mood changes and anxiety – the increase of adrenalin comes at the expense of the loss of dopamine; every molecule of adrenalin is first a molecule of dopamine and so whenever the body produces excess adrenalin/noradrenalin, it will lower the available dopamine.  High adrenalin with low dopamine doesn’t feel good, and may make you cranky and hard to be around.
  • low thyroid – tyrosine is used to make dopamine, and dopamine is used to make adrenalin; tyrosine is also used to make thyroid hormone, so when we are stressed, thyroid function often drops as there is less tyrosine available to make T3 and T4.
  • and more…

Remember its not just our genes that cause us to have elevated adrenalin and the anxiety associated with it.  Inflammation is also a potent activator of the fight or flight system.  In other words, inflammation (of any kind) irritates our body and triggers the alarm.  And since so many things can cause inflammation – food allergies, poor digestion, chronic infections, physical exhaustion, blood sugar imbalances, etc. – is it any wonder that anxiety is a big problem in our lives?

Other genetic SNPs like MTHFR, MTR, MTRR, ACE, GAD, NOS and PEMT also predispose us to being anxious and depressed.  Each of these genes makes it more likely we will be inflammed and will have trouble detoxifying things like lead, mercury, aldehydes, petrochemicals, etc.  Having too much inflammation and heavy metals will constantly stimulate our sympathetic fight or flight system, activating our adrenals, and can lead to high anxiety.  One of the main reasons we feel stressed and anxious is from the methylation cycle not being optimized.  Without optimum methylation we can never have optimum detoxification; and weak detoxification predisposes us to having too much inflammation. In other words, our methylation controls our detoxification, and our detoxification controls our inflammation.  This is why healthy environmental signals and proper stress management are so important for those of us with COMT and MAO SNPs.

Four Ways to Manage Your MAO and COMT Genes:

1) Calm down gut inflammation by avoiding food allergens and processed, garbage GMO foods.  Shop the outside of the supermarket, avoiding the isles.  There is no one perfect diet for everyone but as Michael Pollen said, “eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”  You may need to consider digestive aids and anti-inflammatory supplements and foods to help reduce inflammation even more.  70% of inflammation comes from the gut, so taking care of digestion is always the first priority.

2) Exercise moderately as this creates a calming, relaxation response in the nervous system.  However, one must avoid working out after 7pm as it raises adrenalin.  People with MAO and COMT are going to have a difficult time sleeping after a workout that ends at 8 or 9 pm.  We can do that when we are 10 years old, but the older we get, the more sensitive we become.

3) Get 8-9 hours of sleep.  Most people need 7 hours minimum.  Often people who are recovering from an acute or chronic illness need more like 8-9 hours of sleep to optimize their healing and wellness.

4) Avoid unnecessary stress and take time for yourself.  Learn to say no to stressful situations and take time for yourself.  Recharging your batteries is not selfish; rather it allows you to be your best which helps you help others.  If we are sick and tired, how much of an asset can we be to someone else?

Because the side effects of too much stress are so damaging, people with MAO and COMT must be very careful to manage stress effectively. To manage stress we have to remember that stress comes in many forms – physical, mental, and chemical. To reduce physical stress I suggest you work with a kinesiologist/chiropractor who can accurately assess your structural body and keep your joints, muscles and nerves functioning optimally.  Other strategies that can improve physical stress is massage, acupuncture, epsom salt baths, moderate physical activity, coffee enemas, avoiding prolonged sitting, and getting at least 7 hours of sleep.

Mental stress is a spiritual concern, finding your place in the world and learning to let go and cope with life’s changes and challenges.  Without a doubt those of us with COMT and MAO genes have the hardest time “letting it go” because adrenalin just doesn’t let you do that.  Be strong and keep practicing though, because you truly can learn to be at peace – your genes and your brain will thank you!

Chemical stress can be avoided by optimizing your methylation cycle, cleaning up your gut, and promoting healthy detoxification.  Helping you optimize your genes and your life by figuring out what your body needs is what getting healthy is all about.  While success on this journey requires that individuals commit to getting well, it is impossible to make it alone.  To get the best results you need to work with a clinician who knows about genetics, in addition to the other important factors like blood sugar, adrenals, thyroid, acid alkaline balance, etc.  To really succeed you need a holistic approach.

People with MAO-A and COMT are some of the smartest, most-intelligent people you will ever meet.  The reason is that these SNPs increase dopamine, noradrenalin and adrenalin in the frontal lobes of our brain.   If you are blessed with increased dopamine and adrenalin you will be able to focus like a laser at times, and usually be very detail oriented with a good memory – as long as the system isn’t over-stressed.  But if your body becomes over-stressed from gut inflammation, food allergies, physical exhaustion, too much exercise, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, chronic infections, etc…then you have a recipe for being a stress-mess!

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  By targeting the root causes of our anxiety – too much adrenalin – we can change the environment inside the brain.    When we optimize our genes, we optimize our life…and when we do that, anything is possible.

Yours In Health,

Dr. Rostenberg

By studying the current peer-reviewed research, Dr. Rostenberg has discovered powerful, natural strategies to restore your health and heal your body.  He can help you uncover the genetic or root causes of your health problem and find a natural solution!  If you would like help with your methylation genetics to improve your brain function and reduce/eliminate your symptoms, please contact Dr. Rostenberg at Red Mountain Natural Medicine today. Phone 208-322-7755. Email redmountainclinic@gmail.com. Website http://www.redmountainclinic.com

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