Anxiety is a symptom, NOT a disease.
There are many reasons why people become anxious. Genetics, diet, lifestyle and environment are all key factors and all equally important. For many people, the reality is that even though they may take steps to improve their diet, lifestyle and environment with the goal of improving their mental health, they find nothing changes. So today I want to focus on the missing link—genetics.
Our genes regulate our hormones and neurotransmitters. Genetic variations (also called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) can directly impact the levels of these important chemical messengers, contributing to anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Let’s start with methylation. Methylation is a biological process that occurs within every cell in our body and is the process of activating a molecule through the addition of a methyl group. What does this mean exactly? Well, think of it as a process of switching on (or off) enzymes, molecules or chemical reactions in the body. If we didn’t methylate, we would die!
We know that stress uses a LOT of methyl groups. We also know that our hormones and neurotransmitters need methyl groups too. So, if we are burning through too many of them due to stress, it is unlikely there will be enough remaining for serotonin and dopamine (as an example). Those who under-methylate (or have too few methyl groups) can experience headaches, phobias, OCD, depression, addiction and social isolation. But did you know it is also possible to over-methylate? Having too many methyl groups can result in symptoms such as hyperactivity, sleep disorders, restless leg syndrome and anxiety. It is important to seek help from a qualified and experienced practitioner and not self-medicate with supplements. Even a multivitamin can increase anxiety in those with certain genetic SNPs such as MTHFR (the gene that provides instructions for making the methyl enzyme).
There are several other genes involved with anxiety. For example, GAD1 is responsible for the conversion of glutamate to GABA. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter (also found in MSG), whilst GABA is calming (and what we need to quell feelings of anxiety). Nutrient deficiencies can also contribute to the poor conversion of glutamate to GABA, so diet is an important factor when it comes to the expression of your genes.
Denise Berry, naturopath and nutrigenomics specialist at Kismet Health, can arrange genetic testing, provide clinical interpretation of your results and design an effective treatment plan to enable you to rid yourself of anxiety and start living the life you deserve.
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