I start with the premise that all human disease is genetic.
- Paul Berg, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate
Why are genetic tests so critical to building better mental health? As discussed in a prior blog, your DNA creates the information-system blueprint to build out your subatomic, atomic, and molecular mental health in every one of your 200 billion brain cells; and the 30 trillion other cells that determine your physical health. A new genetic test identifies genes that predispose you to “setting your brain on fire” and identifies what you can do to extinguish that fire to improve mental wellness.
In this blog you will learn about…
- Why rates of mental illness are on the rise
- A new genetic test that creates better mental health through analyzing genetic variations that can be positively affected through the targeted use of gene-specific supplements
- Four genes that affect how your immune system functions, that predispose you to “setting your brain on fire,” and how you can “extinguish them” with specific supplements to improve mental health
- How your immune system and these “brain fire genes” predispose one to developing PTSD, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Alzheimer’s Disease
- How to obtain additional information on the role of genetic testing in Root Cause Psychiatry
Dear Reader, in today’s world, why does it seem that more people than ever are struggling with mental health problems? This is a question that my colleagues and I wrestle with daily. While the answers to this question are complex, there is one that remains quite simple: while the human genome has not materially changed for the last 50,000 years, our environment has altered dramatically. And that environment has a profound effect on which of our genes are expressed, and which are suppressed. How?
As you can see from the infographic below, many of the environmental “roots” that affect how our genes are “turned on” or “turned off” have first come into existence, or dramatically changed in the last few decades.
For example, over the past several decades we have witnessed increased environmental toxins, greater challenges getting a full night’s sleep, a Western diet characterized by more processed foods and simple carbohydrates, and now a global pandemic. Amidst all of this turmoil, the exponential rise in the popularity of social media apps like Facebook, which launched less than 20 years ago in 2004, has only increased our levels of stress, fight or flight responses, and more.
Environmental Stressors Set Your Brain on Fire
Each of these examples have one important thing in common, they modulate specific genes in your cells to produce increased levels of inflammatory proteins that circulate throughout your body and invade your brain to cause brain inflammation.
It’s not our species’ fault that our genome can’t keep up with the fast-paced changes of life in the twenty-first century. However, we do have some control over how we can effectively cope! The good news is that we can determine our personal vulnerabilities to debilitating brain inflammation through a brilliant new genetic test called IntellxxDNA™.
IntellxxDNA Genetic Testing Enables Root Cause Analysis with Supplement-Based Solutions
IntellxxDNA personalized genomic reports help psychiatrists understand a patient’s individual gene function, which leads to exceptionally powerful, individualized prevention and intervention strategies to build better mental health. The best part about IntellxxDNA report is that the gene-targeted interventions include diet, lifestyle, and supplements that have been identified in numerous scientific studies; including their effective doses. As you follow along in this blog you will see how genomics can be used to develop a personalized plan of action for optimizing your mental wellness.
The more we learn about the innate power of the mind-body connection and the effects of medication, environment, lifestyle, and diet on mental health, the more it makes sense to integrate all of these factors into a plan for your mental health care. IntellxxDNA reports are divided into categories of health conditions showing both risks and benefits of your unique genetic code. As a Clinical Decision Support Tool, a psychiatrist can use an IntellxxDNA Genomic Report to understand the clinically relevant and highly comprehensive information about your personal genetic make-up. This includes information about potential interventions that can be used to optimize your mental wellness and brain health, and connect the dots that lead to your best self.
The connection between our mental health and our biology is incredible—and addressing certain “risky” genes can be an important part of psychiatric treatment. To illustrate this connection, today I want to explore how certain genetic variations relate to systemic and brain inflammation and poor mental health outcomes, and then discuss what we can do about them to help your immune system help you! In my discussion with you below on inflammation, I am going to share some of what I have learned as I have studied genomics with IntellxxDNA and combined it with my psychiatric knowledge.
Immune System and Inflammation Genes Tested by IntellxxDNA
The IL6 Gene
There are a number of Immune System and Inflammation Genes tested by IntellxxDNA that can tell you quite a bit about your health, and today we will focus on four of them.
The first is called IL6. A variant of this gene is known to increase inflammatory response and create cytokines that cross the blood brain barrier into the brain, and to activate the glial cells and cause brain inflammation. This IL6 variant also creates a higher risk of depression. Increased release of IL6 in major depressive disorders has been found to be a factor associated with a poorer response to therapy and may affect a wide range of depressive symptoms. Increased IL6 activity may also cause depression through activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, or influence neurotransmitter manufacture and metabolism; and it also induces the release of other cytokines that cause inflammation, known as TNF Alpha and IL1. Supplements such as sulforaphane, quercetin, and omega 3s can “turn off” this gene variant to reduce its effects on brain inflammation.
The TNF Alpha Gene
The next gene is called TNF Alpha. Numerous studies have consistently shown that patients with mood disorders have increased levels of the TNF Alpha protein coded by this gene. This protein also crosses the blood brain barrier, where it activates the microglia that further inflame the brain. Mood disorders are not the only condition associated with this gene and brain inflammation.
In Autism Spectrum Disorders, levels of TNF Alpha in the cerebral spinal fluid are 50 times higher than normal, and there are elevations in IL6 as well. And the higher the levels of TNF Alpha, the more severe the symptoms of autism.
In a study of children with PANDAS/PANS, which affects 1 in 200 children, 100% of them were found to have the genetic variant of TNF Alpha identified by IntellxxDNA. The same TNF Alpha variant confers six times the risk of celiac disease, which may be why a gluten-free diet often helps alleviate some of the symptoms in patients suffering from autism.
What are some ways to “treat” this TNF Alpha gene variant in children and adults suffering from autism? Luteolin, Quercetin, and Rutin have shown promising results; all three together were shown to decrease serum TNF Alpha by 60%, and when administered to children with autism, they showed gain of function on communication, living skills, and sociability milestones.
This TNF Alpha variant also confers 2.8 times the risk of developing OCD symptoms, by activating what is known as the glutamate system in the brain which also worsens symptoms of anxiety and depression. And this excess glutamate also reduces the brain’s ability to grow new brain cells and create new synaptic connections between them, which can negatively impact the ability to learn new information.
Finally, this TNF Alpha effect on glutamate also makes less serotonin available in the synapse by increasing its reuptake. This TNF Alpha gene can be “turned off” with supplements such as Lion’s Mane, capsaicin, sulforaphane, and milk thistle. IntellxxDNA includes these researched interventions in their report, which makes genomics truly actionable. This helps our Potomac Psychiatry Team bring you a higher likelihood of improved outcomes.
TNF Alpha levels are also much higher in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, one of the hallmarks of which is an impaired ability to grow new brain cells and make new connections between them. Sulforaphane has been shown to help clear the amyloid protein tangles in the brain cells of these patients—proteins that accumulate to cause cell damage—and reduce brain inflammation. And Lion’s Mane has been shown to reduce mild cognitive impairment by reducing TNF Alpha levels. When the supplement was stopped the improvement went away.
These gene variants can negatively affect health in other ways, such as Crohn’s disease, autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
These two genetic variations can also be involved in promoting “brain fog” which is a common complaint among those with brain inflammation associated with a chronic mood or anxiety condition, and also can be a precursor to developing a dementia; along with two other genetic variants—IL1A and IL1B—that promote brain inflammation.
IL1 Alpha and IL1 Beta Genes
These genes are not only associated with dementia, they are also associated with schizophrenia and autoimmune diseases, and have been shown to activate those microglial cells we mentioned before. With these two genes, some of the same supplements noted above can also help to switch off their effects that increase inflammation, with the addition of Resveratrol, omega 3s, and curcumin.
As you can see, these four genes not only cause brain inflammation by negatively affecting your immune system, this inflammation in turn creates many of the most common mental health problems plaguing us in today’s world.
These Genes Create PTSD, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Alzheimer’s
PTSD: Elevations in TNF Alpha, IL6, and IL1 Beta are also associated with PTSD, and individuals with PTSD have significantly elevated serum levels of these proinflammatory cytokines than the respective control group without PTSD. Furthermore, neuroimaging studies in PTSD patients demonstrated that these altered inflammatory markers are associated with structural and functional alterations in brain regions that are responsible for the regulation of stress and emotion, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and frontal cortex.
Bipolar Disorder: Evidence for involvement of the immune system, and in a broader sense, inflammation in mood disorders, including Depression and Bipolar Disorder, has been steadily accumulating in recent years. In my experience, many of these patients “feel sick,” and describe that they feel like they have a low-grade flu. In addition, a complex mixture of behavioral changes observed in inflammatory states, which includes mood changes such as anxiety, depression, failure to concentrate, lethargy, and more that are associated with proinflammatory cytokines such as TNF Alpha, IL6, and IL1 Beta. It has also been established that these cytokines can induce mood disorders in physically ill patients without a previous mental illness; and a great percentage of patients with mood disorders show comorbidities with autoimmune pathologies, such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, hepatitis, and Crohn's disease. Patients who experience systemic autoimmune diseases also present an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder.
Two studies used PET Scanning to identify a neuroinflammatory condition in patients with bipolar disorder, including increased activation of immune system cells (glial cells), and damage to brain cells (often reversible with the right supplements, diet, and lifestyle changes) in the hippocampus of bipolar patients compared to healthy controls. The hippocampus is intimately involved in learning new information, and regulating and processing emotions.
Alzheimer’s Disease: And do you remember the “methylation gene” – MTHFR? When this variant is combined with one of these inflammation genes, together they triple the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia (caused by a narrowing of the tiny blood vessels in the brain that nourish our neurons with nutrients and oxygen).
Root Cause Psychiatry Uses Genetic Testing to Determine Inflammation Genes
My dear reader, knowledge of your personal genome gives you the power to take control of it to restore your health and improve your relationships. As you have learned in our Root Cause Psychiatry blog series so far, simply identifying symptoms and prescribing medications is not enough.
Without the type of genetic testing provided by IntellxxDNA and Genomind, a psychiatrist is simply not as effective in treating individuals with chronic unremitting emotional pain—who often present to us feeling horribly broken and hopeless after other treatment efforts failed to improve their symptoms. As you have learned today, chronic inflammation may be one of the most important root causes of all!