I’m certain your genes weren’t on your mind over the holidays but we can’t overlook that they were players in everything you did and ate and thought. The holidays with all of the various changes in your routine can reveal tons about your genetic weaknesses and strengths. I find it fascinating, but imagine so few people take a deep enough look at the clues revealed during experiences like the holidays.
How you managed what you did, what you ate, and what you thought is ripe with delicious clues to your health. I might go so far as to offer that if you’ve never consulted your genes for clues to your health, you’re missing out in a huge way. Let’s take a look at what you might have missed.
We all recognize that this time of year is always filled with so many challenges… physical, mental and emotional… sometimes wonderful, sometimes not so much. For myself, I feel blessed to have loving family around me, but also feel the pressure of expectations, social engagements and change. It’s not easy for me to step out of my normal routine of patients, kids, food and exercise. Knowing that another year has passed and so much remains to be accomplished weighs on me. (See if you can figure out below which set of genes I need to work on.)
The ability to relax into the holidays and be ok with all of the change begins from the foundation within my genetic make-up. Perhaps you can relate but maintaining the graciousness of an angel in someone else’s home and engaging in fruitful (and sometimes vaguely oppositional) conversation across the table from in-laws or new faces on energy fumes and a questionable diet is a challenge for my system to navigate (even this sentence was tiring for me to read). Some people are juiced up by this environment; others are left depleted. So how I fared stems most essentially from the strengths and weaknesses within my unique genetic makeup.
Let’s briefly review some “holiday genes” so you can see where you fit, and then consider if some changes to your routine in the new year might leave a few personal challenges in 2014. You see… the nice thing about genes, as influential as they are, is that we now know we can change how we handle just about everything that comes into our lives… from stress, alcohol or sleep to our susceptibility to stroke, gluten, or hormonal weight gain.
Some may feel like alcohol and coffee got them through the holidays but a lot can be gleaned from that. Your co-worker that was dancing on the table at the christmas party, and still arrived at work the next day bright and chipper, probably has CYP genes that are working really well. If you find that a few sips from a cocktail leave you banged up the next day, you may need to give your CYP’s a boost. As for coffee, I joke that I can’t even smell it after 3PM if I want to sleep but my father-in-law essentially drinks a cup in order to go to bed. It’s in the genes.
Maybe you’re familiar with the tension of the holidays coursing through your veins and find relaxing a wishful hope. You may have a slow functioning COMT. COMT is the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of anxiety causing neurotransmitters, preventing their persistent cycling through your body and resulting stress overload. While this may lead you to appear high functioning (ie. wow, this lady really thinks of everything when it comes to planning a party), it may not feel so good in your body. Muscle tension, sleepless nights and racing thoughts are the unwelcome costs of the external perfection.
The holidays routinely bring a break from your normal diet. New indulgences can leave you with a tired body, foggy brain, sluggish bowels or even aching joints. There are several related genes that affect how you cope with anything from processed foods to the gluten in that delicious pie crust.
Then there are some of us that have no interest in another cookie, yet can’t stop ourselves… willpower has left until next year. This is surprisingly common and has little to do with willpower in the end. You may have a genetic susceptibility to lowered dopamine or serotonin causing you to seek out foods that ding your reward centers in the brain. This is such a powerful mechanism that leaves many of us guilt-ridden.
I think we all know someone that gets that familiar “bar tan”. You know the one at the holiday party with the flushed face. Sometimes allergies peak, skin itches and eyes water. This experience sheds insight into how histamine genes have managed all that aged cheese, the goblets of red wine and other histamines throughout the holiday spread.
Lastly, with the holidays coming to a close perhaps your stomach has not “been right” since they started. Compared to the rest of your family, you haven’t overindulged much at all, yet you feel bloated constantly and you wonder how other people are managing to survive. You may have any number of susceptibilities to poor gut function and bacterial imbalance that leave your gut gurgling.
These are just a few examples of how your genes can influence how you process foods and beverages or impact your mood. Once you identify a genetic “weakness” in a certain area, you can learn how to change it. Our old way of thinking about genes, is just that, old. While you do inherit genes from your parents, how the genes influence various functions in your body changes based on your environment, the thoughts we think, the food we eat, the air we breathe, etc.
Again… you can change the function of your genes. For example, if you are someone who has a tendency to high histamine levels, experienced as a flushed face, watery and itchy eyes after enjoying certain foods or drink, we can give you an enzymes called DAO which can help you breakdown histamine. If you are someone who doesn’t breakdown stress-inducing neurotransmitters, we can give you magnesium and specific vitamins to speed up the enzymes and help you feel more balanced and relaxed.
To me, this information is so empowering. Recognizing that you’re just unique genetically and not weird or crazy is a huge mental relief in and of itself. Then knowing that you’re not at the mercy of your genes and that you can alter their function is truly life changing.
So enjoy the close to 2014. Here’s to fresh chances in 2015! As we consider new year’s resolutions I propose we resolve to capitalize on the fresh chances everyday to create a new future for ourselves.
For those that are interested, please join us on January 14th for the start of our next in-class Metabolic Cleanse. We’ll learn how to positively influence our genes together and identify what works for you. Join us locally in our downtown office or online from anywhere! (You must register to attend.)