Genetics and High Sensitivity
by Janice Carlin, PhD, CHHP, CHNP, CNHP
Copyright © 2018 Janice Carlin
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The source of your high sensitivity is on multiple levels. From your personal soul energy to your DNA, the ways that you react to stimuli in the world are unique to you.
The purpose of sharing this information is to empower and inspire you not to judge yourself, your children, or anyone else for their high sensitivity (or even lack thereof), and to give you tools and information to help you to live a healthy life as a sensitive. Although some people may find it relatively easy to live in this world, those of us with high sensitivity most definitely do not. And here are some of the reasons why:
First, every person has a unique soul. This is the energy that makes up who you really are. When you leave this life, your soul will continue to exist and to have experiences, even though the time for your physical human body to live has ended. We do not have the tools to define all of the different souls that exist. Our souls call different spaces home. Some otherworldly souls struggle greatly to be able to live a healthy life on Earth because it is so different from their other life experiences. Souls that call Earth home have a much easier time adapting to living here. You can learn more about Soul Energy Types if you’re interested.
On top of this, your soul has a vehicle with which to live a life on Earth—your body. Each body comes with its own set of complexities. Although each human body has the similar elements that make it what it is, there are differences among them. These differences can literally be seen on the microscopic level through how the DNA expresses itself. Dr. Elaine Aron, who created the term "Highly Sensitive Person", shares that 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive, and that scientific research is being done to prove that it is an innate, genetic trait.[i] Scientific proof has already been found that shows and explains why some people have more trouble feeling well and maintaining their health due to mutations in certain genes that are activated. Some of these variants actually make it more difficult to for the body to detoxify itself, more reactive to chemical exposures, and less able to function to its highest capacities. Leading the way with the applying the most cutting-edge genetic and epigenetic research are functional medicine-trained doctors. These types of practitioners are interested in finding and resolving the root causes of people’s ill health, as opposed to the allopathic approach of treating symptoms.
Rarely will you find any medical practitioner who will talk to you about the energy of your soul. When you pair an otherworldly soul energy who has never experienced living on a planet with the density of Earth, and so many toxic chemicals and other harmful energies, with a body that is not able to effectively detoxify itself from them and is also highly reactive to them, you have a particularly challenging situation. The more chemicals we produce and use, the more sensitive people struggle to be able to thrive. The incidence of autism in the United States alone has already increased 150% since the year 2000.[ii] As children with autism are sensitive and have been affected by toxic exposures that have harmed their bodies, this is a clear indication of the severity of the toxic state of our world, and why sensitive people are struggling so much to be well here.
If you are a very sensitive person, it isn’t just your soul energy that’s different from the majority of people on Earth. Ten years ago, I didn’t know what I know now. Despite my attempts to be healthy, I was experiencing an extreme degree of hypersensitivity within my entire body, very similar to the hypersensitivity that children with autism exhibit. A very special man named Dr. Kendal Stewart, in Austin, Texas, helped me make the connections that I needed in order to move forward with my own healing, as well as eventually being able to help children and families experiencing autism as I do today. After evaluating me, he told me about genetic mutations and methylation, and how he knew what to do to help me because of what scientists were learning from the research being done on children with autism. He also told me that I was “so hypersensitive in all of the systems of my body” that he had to make the changes extremely slowly and only use natural supplements. I was fascinated with the information and I still am today.
The research that's been done on children with autism and what scientists have learned from it, guides us as sensitives to know what to do to care for ourselves in regards to using food and supplements to support our sensitive bodies. If something is indicated to be helpful for people with autism, it's worth the effort to look into the research to see if it would benefit you, as well, because so much research continues to occur for these sensitive children. It took me many years to really make sense of the information he told me, but once I did, the level of confidence and empowerment I felt inside of myself increased significantly.
One piece of information that Dr. Stewart told me during our first meeting that struck a very deep chord within me, and I think will do the same with any one reading this who believes that there is something mentally or emotionally wrong with him or her as I did at the time, was when he looked me straight in the eyes and said with deep compassion: “It’s an issue with your physical body. It’s not in your head. You aren’t crazy. It’s in your body.” At that time, there weren’t inexpensive ways to do genetic testing like there are now. He told me that he didn’t need a test to know what to do to help me because the symptoms I was presenting were so extreme and what he was used to treating in autistic children. So I didn’t have the testing done and I proceeded to go forward without the specific knowledge of exactly what I was dealing with physically. Ten years later, with genetic testing so easy to have done, and so many more functional doctors using it to help people, I did have my DNA analyzed. And just like Dr. Stewart said, I have those genetic mutations activated that affect the most sensitive population.
If you carry the genetic polymorphism for a certain trait or disease, you may or may not experience it because genes can become activated due to epigenetic factors. This means that toxins in the environment or even high stress can turn on genetic variants. However, even if you do your best live a clean, healthy lifestyle, if you have certain genetic variants, it may be more difficult for your body to naturally detoxify itself, and to function to its highest capabilities of being healthy. If your body has trouble detoxifying itself and making enough cellular energy, you aren't going to be able to live with optimum physical, mental, and emotional health. If your body, as you will read below, has impaired function within its methylation pathways, the toxins can activate the problematic genes.
I have done my best to make the following information really accessible and understandable. Take your time and allow yourself to receive it. If you want to do more research and learn more, follow the links to get started.
How can your body have trouble detoxifying itself?
It’s about our genes and how methylation works in our bodies.
Epigenetics shows us that the ways our genes express themselves can be changed as they respond to changes to we are exposed to in our environment. Our bodies have natural pathways that allow for detoxification. However, these can become damaged as environmental toxic exposures change our DNA. In order for the variant to be activated there has to be a triggering event. Kendal Stewart, M.D., a nationally renowned Neurotologist/NeuroSensory Specialist writes:
A patient who is genetically, or otherwise, predisposed to developing one or more of these illnesses will not do so until they experience a triggering event. Unfortunately, there are a large number of factors that can act as a triggering event, from vaccines (live viral), severe infections, environmental exposures, trauma, and surgery, to emotional states such as stress.[iii]
Methylation pathways are necessary for optimal health. The methyl groups that flow and work within them transport nutrients, turn genes on and off, process chemicals and toxins, build neurotransmitters, process hormones, build immune cells, produce cellular energy, and produce the protective coating on nerves.[iv]When there’s a shortage of methyl groups, the methylation pathways don’t function correctly and this significantly affects our health and wellbeing. Dr. Stewart also writes:
Defects in methylation lay the appropriate groundwork for the further assault of environmental and infectious agents resulting in a wide range of conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, thyroid dysfunction, neurological inflammation, diabetes, chronic viral infection, neurotransmitter imbalances, atherosclerosis, cancer, aging, schizophrenia, decreased repair of tissue damage, improper immune function, neural tube defects, Down’s syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, ADD, ADHD, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, and autism. Supplementation with vitamins and nutrients will bypass these mutations to allow for restored function of the pathway.”[v]
Methylation can be disturbed for various reasons that include nutrient deficiencies, environmental toxicity, heavy metals, chemicals, and genetic mutations.[vi] I want to draw your attention to the last sentence in Dr. Stewart’s quote that states: “Appropriate supplementation with vitamins and nutrients will bypass these mutations to allow for restored function of the pathway.” Yes, this is true, and you will see some of this information as you read further. However, an essential piece that must go hand in hand with this is that highly sensitive people must do whatever they can to keep toxins away from their bodies to their best of their abilities. The reasons for doing this are so clear when you know that some genetic mutations actually make the body more sensitive to environmental toxins and the negative effects of stress, more sensitive to the sensation of pain, slower to process medications and chemicals through the body, and less able to effectively detoxify the body.
As I’ve always said, there isn’t something wrong with us as sensitives for not being able to process and detoxify chemicals. There’s something wrong in this world about the fact that there are so many chemicals that are causing damage to our bodies, rendering them unable to function properly. We aren’t designed to live in a toxic soup, and that, unfortunately, is where we find ourselves living today on Planet Earth.
There are several genes connected to the experiences described in bold above. There are thousands of genes that can have mutations, and I'm not an expert in genetics. However, the ones I’m sharing with you here have been shown to have direct correlation to what so many sensitives struggle with in regards to living a healthy, happy life. And yes, I have all of these genetic variants myself.
MTHFR is an enzyme that’s the first step in the methylation pathway. MTHFR is supposed to produce methylfolate, which is used to support and regulate methylation. If the MTHFR gene is mutated and does not work properly (in varying degrees in a large percentage of very sensitive people), your body will be unable to regulate the methylation process, resulting in any of the above health conditions that Dr. Stewart referenced, plus chronic fatigue and bipolar disorder.[vii] I personally have the heterozygous expression on both alleles for MTHFR, which means that my body’s methylation pathways only function at 50% effectiveness. On top of this, I have other mutations, which affect my body's ability to detoxify itself.
Depending upon what expression you have of the MTHFR, your body can experience anywhere from a 5–70% reduction in being able to properly methylate and detoxify itself.
It’s not uncommon for highly sensitive people to be told they have a mental health disorder. Mental and emotional health are somewhat controlled by our thoughts and actions in our lives, but our abilities to be happy, focused, peaceful, and emotionally stable, are also based on our bodies capabilities to regulate neurotransmitters. The COMT gene makes an enzyme that helps to maintain appropriate levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. If this gene is mutated, you could have too much or too little dopamine circulating. This doesn’t mean that you have a mental health condition—remember how epigenetics works. If you optimize your nutrition to allow for methylation to occur, you won’t suffer the same effects as someone who doesn’t do this. People with variants of the COMT gene will also be more sensitive to pain and processing emotional stimuli.[viii] Variants on the MTHFR gene are also linked to depression. Of particular note to sensitives, variants on the OXTR gene have a direct correlation to the ability to feel empathy.[ix]
Another fascinating genetic variant is the SOD2 gene, which is connected to high sensitivity to chemicals. Studies linking multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) have linked the condition to people with polymorphisms of the SOD2 gene.[x] Martin L. Pall, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences, Washington State University and Research Director, the Tenth Paradigm Research Group, writes:
There is compelling genetic evidence that these (seven classes of chemicals indicated in MCS) chemicals act as toxic agents (toxicants) in the body. Four such studies have been published by three research groups in three countries. Collectively they implicate six genes as influencing susceptibility to MCS, such that people carrying some forms of each of these genes are more susceptible to becoming chemically sensitive than are people carrying other forms of the same genes. All of these genes control the activity of enzymes that metabolize these chemicals into other forms.[xi]
According to my Strategene report from Dr. Ben Lynch, "The NAT2 (N-Acetyltransferase 2) gene encodes for an enzyme which is responsible for phase II activation or detoxification of xenobiotics such as arylamines. NAT2 is also involved in the acetylation of the neurotransmitter serotonin and compounds such as histamine. Polymorphisms in this gene affect enzymatic activity and result in a categorization of rapid, intermediate, or slow acetylators." Because I am a slow acetylator, my body has "slower clearance of various drugs, environmental chemicals, and histamine." This is a problem because these toxins can cause physical damage to the body when they aren't cleared out of it. Learning about the NAT2 gene helped me to figure out how to stop the myriad of severe symptoms of was having in relation to MCAS and histamine intolerance.
These are just a few examples of how our genes influence the sensitive reactions we have to stimuli and our abilities to process toxins through our systems.
So what can you do to support your body in being able to methylate more effectively? First, you need to know what you’re working with in regards to your genes. You can purchase a full genetic array through ancestry.com. When you get your results, download the raw genetic data, which you won’t be able to make sense of. Then, upload it into livewello.com, which will process it for you give you a big report showing where the gene variants are. I also recommend Dr. Ben Lynch’s StrateGene, which will interpret and give detailed information about a good number of your genes. Dr. Lynch makes supplements and provides information through his website and YouTube videos to help you make choices about which ones will benefit you based upon your genes. Dr. Stewart also has designed many supplements that I do highly recommend. You can find these through Neurobiologix. Ideally, you will want to take your results from Livewello and StrateGene to a functional medicine doctor who is trained in knowing how to use proper supplementation for methylation optimization.
Next, you need to know that in order for your methylation pathways to work correctly, you have to provide your body with the proper form and amounts of certain B vitamins. Everyone’s needs are a little bit different, but the B vitamins are essential. Most people will need a methylated B12 and methylfolate as a baseline. Having some gene variants, like the FUT2, adds to the problem and result in lower levels of vitamin B12 because it isn’t effectively absorbed in the intestines.[xii] Due to genetics, some people’s bodies don’t process vitamin D well, which leads deficiencies connected to all sorts of health problems that sensitive people experience. So you have to supplement with a high quality vitamin D3 supplement.
Keeping as many toxic elements as possible away from your body is also necessary to optimize your methylation abilities. You have to be able to detoxify yourself in order to be healthy and to feel well. Many, many sensitive people are affected by viruses, yeasts, and bacterial pathogens. If your body can’t clear these out, they will make you much more unwell as they fester inside of you causing more damage to your body. Viruses (especially the Epstein Barr Virus and its variations) and systemic candida cause all kinds of serious health conditions. If your body is methylation-impaired, it can be very challenging to remove them from your system effectively and efficiently.
And lastly, you have to honor and support your body by eating the foods and taking the supplements that you NEED in order to be healthy, not necessarily what you want. When your body can’t make or utilize certain vitamins itself, you have to bring the correct forms to yourself. Food nourishes you and provides energy for your cells and organs to function correctly. If you aren’t getting what you need or are eating things that your body can’t process effectively, you’re not going to be able to live in a thriving state and you aren’t going to be able to successfully heal. Sensitivities to certain foods don’t always show up on a blood test. But if you look at your genes, you can see them there, and all it takes is a trigger or a lack of effective methylation to turn them on.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to be open-minded to different ways to eating that will support your body. And to be aware that the way your body needs for you to eat isn’t necessarily what someone else’s body needs, or what your belief system wants to do. Your amazing soul deserves a safe, high-functioning home in which to live its life on Earth. You owe it to yourself to find out what you can do to create that space for yourself by attending to the specific needs of your amazing body.
[i] Aron, Elaine PhD. Comfort Zone Online 2011. HSP Research: Recent Genetic Findings. http://www.hsperson.com/pages/2Aug11.htm
[ii] Baio J, Wiggins L, Christensen DL, et al. Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years. Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2014. MMWR Surveill Summ 2017;67(No. SS-6):1-23. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6706a1
[iii] Stewart, Kendal MD. http://www.neurobiologix.com/v/Files/Abstract%20by%20Dr.%20Stewart-Methylation's%20Role...A4M%20Dec%202014%20.pdf
[iv] Lynch, Ben ND https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QRHif2aVPvw
[v] Stewart, Kendal MD. http://www.drkendalstewart.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Methylation-Overview-for-Professionals-10.11.pdf
[vi] Lynch, Ben ND https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QRHif2aVPvw
[vii] Lynch, Ben ND http://mthfr.net
[viii] Schmahl, Christian, et al. COMT val158met Polymorphism and Neural Pain Processing. January 2012. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0023658
[ix] Nan Wu, et al. The Association Between Oxytocin Receptor Gene Polymorphism (OXTR) and Trait Empathy. Journal of Affective Disorders Volume 138, Issue 3, May 2012, Pages 468-472 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2012.01.009https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016503271200016X
[x] Xiaoyi Cui, et al. Evaluation of Genetic Polymorphisms in Patients with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. August 2013 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0073708
[xi] Hogg, Matthew; Pall, Martin. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: The Genetic Evidence. September 2009. http://www.ei-resource.org/news/multiple-chemical-sensitivity-news/multiple-chemical-sensitivity-the-genetic-evidence-professor-martin-pall/
[xii] Genetics Home Reference. FUT2 Gene. 2018. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/FUT2#condition