This is the first part of a series of posts on epigenetics and mental health. The rest of the series will get into epigenetics in relation to specific mental health conditions.
Epigenetics literally means “above genetics”. It’s the system in which the body regulates what genes do. Epigenetics regulates which genes are expressed and which ones are silenced all throughout the body.
Here’s a short video explaining epigenetics and it’s history, highly recommend watching:
“Epigenetics is a rapidly growing field that investigates alterations in gene expression that do not involve changes in DNA sequence. Until recently, a person’s genetic characteristics were thought to be cast in concrete at the moment of conception, with a unique DNA sequence arising from a somewhat random collection of genetic factors from parents and ancestors. We now know this is only partially true and that the chemical environment in the womb can determine which genes are expressed and which are silenced in the various tissues and organs. In addition, environmental factors can alter genetic expression throughout life.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 35). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
This is important because mental disorders may occur because of how genes are expressed.
“Many mental disorders result from environmental factors that cause genes to behave (or express themselves) improperly. For example, nutrient imbalances or toxic exposures can alter gene expression rates and may be the root cause of numerous psychiatric disorders. It’s not a coincidence that methylation is a dominant factor in epigenetics, and methylation abnormalities are common in mental illnesses. Recent advances in the science of epigenetics provide a roadmap for nutrient therapies that have potential for overcoming mental disorders and eventual elimination of the need for psychiatric medications.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 35). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
To listen to a great podcast series on epigenetics and mental health, listen to these:
- CoreBrain Journal – 025 Methylation Insights Improve Treatment Outcomes – Walsh
- CoreBrain Journal – 034 Copper & Kryptopyrrole Dr William Walsh-2
- CoreBrain Journal – 042 Biomedical Markers Bipolar & Schizophrenia Dr Walsh-3
- CoreBrain Journal – 141 Details For The End of Autism – Walsh
There are more than 300 important nutrients in human biochemistry. Some of these nutrients have a powerful impact on activity at serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, and NMDA receptors.
Nutrient therapy can change epigenetics in a person’s body, just like psychiatric medication can. However, unlike psychiatric medication which has severe side-effects, nutrient therapy uses supplements (nutrients). After going through a blood test and urine test, a doctor practicing nutrient therapy can provide you with the exact supplements (nutrients) and dosage amount that you need to take based upon the epigenetic alterations you may have. Then a nutritionist knowledgable in epigenetics can tell you what to eat according to your biotype.
The tests are relatively affordable, usually $300 – $400. Mine came to around $550 because they conducted a hair analysis as well.
(I’m currently awaiting my results as of the writing of this article. I travelled to just outside of Chicago, IL from Buffalo, NY to see Dr. Mensah at Mensah Medical to undergo nutrient therapy for my bipolar disorder. Once the results are in, I’ll make an appointment with Samantha Gilbert, a Certified Holistic Nutrition Practitioner, who was recommended by Dr. Mensah to eat correctly according to my biotype.)
Nutrient therapy works side-by-side with psychiatric medication, often lowering the dosage of psychiatric medication needed and sometimes removes the need for them all together.
It’s only been a little over 5 years now that we now know which nutrients can promote reuptake and which can inhibit reuptake.
Reuptake is the “The reabsorption of a secreted substance by the cell that originally produced and secreted it. The process of reuptake, for example, affects serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger). It is produced by nerve cells in the brain and is used by nerves to communicate with one another. A nerve releases the serotonin that it has produced into the space surrounding it. The serotonin either travels across that space and attaches to receptors on the surface of nearby nerves or it attaches to receptors on the surface of the nerve that produced it, to be taken up by the nerve, recycled, and released again. This process is referred to as reuptake. A balance is reached for serotonin between attachment to the nearby nerves and reuptake. A medication that acts as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) blocks the reuptake of serotonin and thereby changes the level of serotonin in the brain.” – https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=25240
Basically, reuptake inhibitors can keep neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the synapses of your brain longer by decreasing their reabsorption rate. This is important because reabsorption can only happen so many times before the neurotransmitter dies and has to be produced again. It’s exactly what most antidepressants do, like SSRI’s such as Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft.
“The primary raw materials for neurotransmitter synthesis in the brain are nutrients: amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other natural biochemicals. The levels of these ingredients are well-regulated for most persons, but gene abnormalities can result in a nutrient deficiency or overload. The net result can be an abnormal neurotransmitter concentration and a serious mental illness. Psychiatric medications can be effective in coping with neurotransmitter imbalances. However, as we have emphasized, advanced nutrient therapy to promote normalization of neurotransmitter levels in the brain can also be effective, with the advantage of reduced adverse side effects.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 13). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
How Effective You May Ask?
A paper published in the ACNEM Journal in November 2010 titled, “The Effectiveness of Targeted Nutrient Therapy in Treatment of Mental Illness” said this in their findings:
“The purpose of this paper is to highlight targeted nutritional correction in mental illness, and to present outcome data collected for one year after initial interview, demonstrating a considerable subjective improvement in more than 60% of patients. This compared favourably with the conventionally treated comparison group. One of the startling findings is the vast difference in inpatient hospital days between the treatment and control groups.”
“Our internal outcome studies indicate that more than 70% of behavior, ADHD, and depression patients report they are at their best with zero medication after six months of biochemical therapy. The remaining 30% state that some medication support is needed to prevent a partial return of symptoms. In nearly all cases, medication dosages can safely be reduced with lessened side effects. The situation is very different for patients diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, with only 5% able to completely discontinue psychiatric medication after successful biochemical therapy. Many of these patients report elimination of psychosis and a return to independent living after a combination of nutrient therapy and greatly reduced medication levels.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 31). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Results like these and the fact that I started getting better on anti-inflammation diet are the reasons why I chose to try nutrient therapy for my bipolar disorder.
Nutrient therapy works best the younger you are, most commonly due to how much psychiatric medication changes your brain. The least number of medication you’ve been on the better your chances are with nutrient therapy.
Nutrient therapy has the capability to regulate enzyme gene expression, control serotonin & dopamine reuptake, and improve antioxidant protection in the brain.
Use the link below to find a practitioner of nutrient therapy:
High-Incidence Imbalances In Mental Disorders
The following factors have a powerful impact on the synthesis of neurotransmitters and/or regulation of neurotransmitter activity:
- Methylation Disorder
- Zinc Deficiency
- Copper Overload
- Folate Deficiency or Overload
- Pyrrole Disorder
- Toxic-Metal Overload
- EPA, DHA, and/or AA Deficiency
They are all caused by changes in gene expression.
I’ll briefly cover some of these changes below starting with the most common changes among mental disorders, around 70% (according to Dr. Mensah), methylation disorder.
- Methylation is a dominant factor in epigenetic processes that regulate neurotransmitter activity at serotonin and dopamine receptors.
- The methyl/folate ratio has a powerful impact on gene expression of reuptake transport proteins.
- More than 60% of anxiety, depression, and psychosis patients exhibit a serious methylation imbalance.
There are two types of lab tests for methylation status:
- SAMe/SAH Ratio (limited availability)
- Whole-blood histamine (methylation marker)
Please note that present genetic tests like 23andme cannot determine net effect of SNPs that enhance/depress methylation.
Watch this video about “MTHFR and Mental Health: Understanding the Overall Effect of Individual Genetic Mutations (SNPs)” before ordering that genetic test:
There are two types of methylation imbalances, undermethylation and overmethylation. Undermethylation is most common.
There is a methylation tug-of-war between enzyme mutations (SNP’s):
The main causes of undermethylation are:
- Enzyme mutations (SNPs, or snips) in methylation cycle (MTHFR, MS, BHMT, MAT, SAHH, etc…)
- Histamine overload
- Protein deficiency or malabsorption
Symptoms & traits of undermethylation (partial list):
- Very strong-willed, oppositional to authority
- Seasonal inhalant allergies
- Competitive in sports or games
- Calm demeanor but high inner tension
- High fluidity (tears, saliva, etc…)
- OCD tendencies, controlling behavior
- Good response to SSRIs
- High libido
The main causes of overmethylation are:
- Impaired creatine synthesis (AGAT or GAMT SNP’s, Arginine or Glycine deficiency)
- Impaired cystathionine synthesis (CBS SNP)
- Methyltransferase SNPs
Symptoms & traits of overmethylation (partial list):
- High anxiety, panic tendency
- Hyperactivity, nervous legs, pacing
- Sleep disorder
- Low libido
- Absence of seasonal allergies
- Food, chemical sensitivities
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Excellent socialization, empathy
- Non-competitiveness in sports, academics
- Adverse reaction to SSRIs, anti-histamines
Vitamin B-6 Deficiency
“Vitamin B-6 concentrations in the brain are about 100 times higher than levels in blood, and this nutrient has important roles in mental functioning. Severe deficiency of vitamin B-6 has been associated with irritability, depression, poor short-term memory, and psychosis. This is not surprising since it is required for efficient synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, three critically important neurotransmitters.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 20). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
“Persons with a genetic or acquired B-6 deficiency tend to produce insufficient amounts of brain serotonin and are prone to clinical depression, OCD, and other mental problems… A genetic or acquired deficiency of B-6 can result in abnormally low levels of these important neurotransmitters and a myriad of problems, including ADHD, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. A severe deficiency of B-6 can contribute to depressed levels of these neurotransmitters, resulting in mental disorders that are commonly treated with psychiatric medications such as amphetamines, SSRIs, or benzodiazapines (e.g., Xanax). Vitamin therapy to normalize B-6 levels can provide treatment benefits and, in some cases, may eliminate the need for medication altogether. – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (pp. 20-21). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Metal Metabolism Disorders
- Zinc depletion
- Copper overload
- Deficiencies of magnesium, calcium, manganese, selenium, iron, etc..
- Overload of lead, mercury, cadmium, and other toxic metals
Common clinical symptoms of zinc deficiency (via http://www.mensahmedical.com/zinc-deficiency-and-anxiety/:
- Short stature
- Immune dysfunction
- Skin disorders
- Cognitive impairments
“Zinc deficiency is by far the most frequently observed chemical imbalance in mental health populations. More than 90% of persons diagnosed with depression, behavioral disorders, ADHD, autism, and schizophrenia exhibit depleted plasma zinc levels, ranging from low-normal to severe deficiency. One explanation for this curious fact is that most mental disorders involve oxidative stresses that deplete zinc stores in the body. In addition, zinc has a special role in activation and inhibition of NMDA receptors that are essential to good mental health. Zinc deficiency has been associated with delayed growth, temper control problems, poor immune function, depression, poor wound healing, epilepsy, anxiety, neurodegenerative disorders, hormone imbalances, and learning problems.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 23). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Below are the important roles zinc has in brain functioning:
- Zinc metallothionein is a key component of the blood-brain barrier that prevents harmful chemical from entering the brain.
- Zinc proteins in the brain combat oxidative free radicals that could destroy brain cells, harm the myelin sheath, and alter neurotransmitter levels.
- Zinc is required for the efficient conversion of dietary B-6 into PLP, which is needed for efficient synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and other neurotransmitters.
- Zinc deficiency results in altered brain levels of GABA.
- Zinc is a neurotransmitter that is stored in vesicles and ejected into synapses.
- Zinc has a special role in the activation and inhibition of NMDA receptors.
“Copper overloads tend to lower dopamine levels and increase norepinephrine in the brain. Imbalances in these important neurotransmitters have been associated with paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, ADHD, autism, and violent behavior.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 19). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
“Most persons with elevated blood copper also exhibit depressed zinc and excessive oxidative stress. In healthy persons, copper levels are regulated by MT and other proteins that bind to excess copper and carry it out of the body. However, MT activity can be significantly reduced by either zinc deficiency or elevated oxidative stress. Many persons diagnosed with mental illness have an inborn tendency for elevated copper levels, and this predisposes them to psychiatric disorders. Nutrient therapy to normalize copper levels can be effective in balancing dopamine and norepinephrine levels for these persons. This treatment approach is inexpensive and relatively free of side effects when administered properly.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 20). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
“My database includes many patients who exhibit elevated levels of toxic metals, pesticides, or other organic chemicals. Overloads of lead, mercury, and cadmium are especially common. Persons with depressed levels of zinc, glutathione, selenium, or metallothionein are especially sensitive to toxic metals. A high percentage of overmethylated mental patients exhibit severe sensitivities to pesticides and toxic industrial chemicals. Effective treatment of a toxic overload requires a three-part approach:
- Avoidance of additional exposures
- Biochemical treatment to hasten the exit of the toxins from the body
- Correction of underlying chemical imbalances to minimize future vulnerability to toxins”
Folate Deficiency or Overload
- Folic acid, folinic acid, and L-methylfolate are effective methylating agents.
- However, folates also increase expression of SERT transport proteins, resulting in reduced serotonin neurotransmission.
- Most undermethylated depressives with low-serotonin activity are intolerant to folates.
“Abnormalities in methylation and folate chemistry are common in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and certain behavioral disorders. Nearly all low-serotonin depressives tend to be deficient in methionine and SAMe and react adversely to folic acid.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 25). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Double deficiency of B-6 and Zinc
- Reduced serotonin, dopamine, GABA
- Depletion of GSH, MT, Cys, SOD, Catalase
- Supplements of B-6 and zinc can normalize pyrrole levels, often resulting in elimination of symptoms and the need for psychiatric medication.
Here’s an image from “Nutrient Power” on incidences of pyrrole overload in clinical populations (I highlighted my disorder):
“Classic symptoms of pyrrole disorder include high anxiety, frequent mood swings, poor short-term memory, reading disorder, morning nausea, absence of dream recall, and frequent anger and rages.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 26). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Here’s some information and a video from Mensah Medical on Pyrrole Disorder:
- Some people are born with low levels of natural antioxidants glutathione, MT, etc.
- Illnesses, injuries, and emotional trauma can increase oxidative stress.
- Exposure to toxic metals, pesticides, and industrial pollutants increases oxidative stress.
- Clinical tests include plasma Zn, serum Cu, serum ceruloplasmin, and urine pyrroles.
- Oxidative overload present in 95% of patients diagnosed with a behavior, learning, mood, or psychosis disorder.
- Useful supplements include Vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium, alpha lipoic acid, NAC, and GSH.
“Oxidative stress is a major factor in several mental health disorders. About 25% of our body’s total oxygen consumption is inside the brain. Oxygen is needed in the body to support life, but it also contributes to the creation of free radicals. These are molecules that destroy cell membranes and speed up the aging process. The brain is lipid-rich environment that is highly susceptible to oxidative stress or redox imbalances, and can easily be damaged or compromised. Anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, and schizophrenia are all affected by oxidative stress in the body. These conditions improve with our antioxidant rich advanced nutrient therapy protocol.
Inflamed tissues cause fluid to spill out of blood vessels. This fluid goes into the space between cells and begins to pile up. Inside the piles of fluid are tiny molecules that bounce around. These tiny molecules carry an unbalanced electrical charge and are called free radicals. Free radicals alter lipids, proteins, and DNA. When the free radical population becomes so large it can’t be regulated, oxidative stress will set in. Free radicals need to consume fresh electrons to keep their momentum, so they target our tissues and cells, causing disease states in the brain as well as the body.
In our research we have found antioxidants to be a powerful weapon against free radicals and oxidative stress.”
Learn more about oxidative stress at http://www.mensahmedical.com/oxidative-stress-mental-health-disorders/
Amino Acid Disorders
The roles of amino acids in brain chemistry are summed up below (taken from – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (pp. 27-28). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.):
- Tryptophan is the initial starting point (substrate) for the synthesis of serotonin. For many years, tryptophan supplements have been used in an attempt to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
- Dopamine and norepinephrine are synthesized from either phenylalanine or tyrosine, and supplements of these amino acids may assist in elevating levels of these neurotransmitters.
- Glutamine is an amino acid that is a substrate for glutamic acid and the neurotransmitter GABA.
- GABA is both an amino acid and a neurotransmitter, and depressed levels have been associated with anxiety, depression, and psychosis.
- Aspartate is the starting point for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter aspartic acid.
- L-histidine is a precursor of the neurotransmitter histamine.
- Methionine is the precursor for SAMe that has a strong influence on genetic expression of several enzymes required for neurotransmitter synthesis and reuptake.
Fatty Acid Imbalance
“Unsaturated fatty acids are especially important because they provide fluidity to cell membranes and assist in communication between brain cells… DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) is found in the highest concentration and appears to have the greatest impact on brain function. DHA deficiency has been associated with depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and dementia. Second in importance may be EPA, another omega-3 fatty acid. DHA and EPA are essential fatty acids (EFAs) that have become very popular nutritional supplements. Seafood and fish oils are excellent omega-3 dietary sources. AA and DGLA are omega-6 EFAs and are at excessive levels in most persons who consume a junk food diet. The ideal proportion of EFAs in the diet is considered by nutritionists to be between 3 and 6 grams of omega-6 for each gram of omega-3. Unfortunately, a typical American diet contains an excessive amount of omega-6 and other unhealthy fats.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 28). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
“Because of genetic variations, there is biochemical individuality with respect to the ideal dietary intake of specific fatty acids, and indiscriminant use of omega-3 supplements could worsen symptoms for certain patients. For example, most persons with severe pyrrole disorder have sufficient levels of omega-3 oils but are very deficient in AA. In my experience, these patients thrive on primrose oil, which is rich in omega-6; however, they may deteriorate if they supplement with omega-3 alone. In contrast, most depressives and schizophrenics are deficient in DHA and EPA and thrive on omega-3 supplements. Most mental disorders involve elevated oxidative stress that can be quite lethal to EFAs. Fortunately, phosphatidyls are fatty acids that provide a safe haven for DHA, EPA, AA, and DGLA in the presence of oxidative free radicals. The four major phosphatidyls have choline, serine, inositol, or ethanolamine attached to the end of the molecule. Several phosphotidyls are available commercially and can assist in combating certain mental illnesses.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (pp. 28-29). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
“Our database indicates a significant number of patients exhibit chronic low blood glucose levels. This problem doesn’t appear to be the cause of behavioral disorders or mental illnesses, but it is instead an aggravating factor that can trigger striking symptoms. Typical symptoms include drowsiness after meals, irritability, craving for sweets, trembling, anxiety, and intermittent poor concentration and focus. Treatment includes chromium, manganese, and other glucose-stabilizing nutrients, but the primary focus of treatment is on diet.” – Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain (p. 29). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Nutrient therapy has a very high success rate in lowering the dosage amount of psychiatric medication needed. Depending on the epigenetic alterations you may have, nutrient therapy may remove the need for psychiatric medication all together.
Nutrients are powerful and are just effective, if not more, than psychiatric medication without the severe side effects. They have the capability to regulate enzyme gene expression, control serotonin & dopamine reuptake, and improve antioxidant protection in the brain.
You must have a blood test to find out which gene changes you have. Genetic tests like 23andme are not helpful because they cannot determine net effect of SNPs that enhance/depress methylation. The tests are relatively affordable, blood test + urine test + hair analysis was only $550 for me. The blood test alone is much cheaper, around $200-300.
It’s amazing to me that more psychiatrists do not practice nutrient therapy. This is a new and growing field that can help so many people improve their quality of life significantly. Luckily, the Walsh Research Institute has on-going training for doctors who want to incorporate this type of treatment.
It’s the first type of treatment that has given me hope in over a decade since my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Before nutrient therapy, it’s always been a trial and error approach with psychiatric medication. Often times resulting in unwanted side effects like weight gain, drowsiness, and tremors.
I’m hoping that this new approach will at least lower my medication enough to where side effects don’t happen.
The anti-inflammation diet I started adopting was the first big step in this direction. As of the writing of this article, I lost 7.4 pounds (in 3 weeks), I’m able to sleep better and fall asleep faster, I’m able to concentrate and focus longer and better, and overall feel a major improvement, almost to the point of feeling like a different person through just the diet alone. I can’t ever recall feeling this good in my life.
I highly recommend looking into nutrient therapy, in the future the hope is it will replace psychiatric medication as the go-to for mental health treatment. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below.
To wrap it up, I wanted to share this podcast episode from Bulletproof Radio where Dave Asprey interviews one of the great pioneers in nutrient therapy, William J. Walsh, PhD. It’s a great piece that summarizes this article and will further help open your eyes to the power of nutrient therapy.
Best wishes on your journey!