Dirty Genes

Report by Suppers Member Anne Macaulay, PhD (Immunology) and certified professional dog trainer.

Dr. Ben Lynch is a Naturopath who specializes in using insights from epigentics to optimize health. 

Throughout his book ‘Dirty Genes’, Dr. Lynch uses a laundry analogy to make it easier to understand the new science of epigenetics. He refers to genes that are not doing what they should as ‘dirty genes’. Genes can be ‘born dirty,’ that is they can have genetic variations called SNPs that effect function, or they can be ‘made dirty’ by environmental factors such as poor diet, toxins, etc. 

He steers clear of the details of methylation and transcription but explains enough to make it clear that genes are not destiny. He points out that all of us have some dirty genes and that some of these genetic variants or SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), may have had historical advantages to population health. For example, a person who startles easily would be a good person to have with you as a lookout for predators. A person who is sensitive to toxins might serve as the canary in the coal mine. 

He also points out that these genes cause less trouble in the context of a healthy lifestyle. For example, despite having a high rate of SNPs which may limits one’s ability to detoxify (methylate) heavy metals through MTHFR function to 30 percent, Italians have a low rate of birth defects typical of MTHFR SNPs. This is due to a healthy lifestyle: diets high in leafy greens, more interaction with family and community, and family farms producing toxin- and hormone-free vegetables and dairy. 

Dr. Lynch stresses that both genes that are born dirty and genes that have been made dirty through environmental effects can be cleaned. He refers to his basic program as ‘soak and scrub’--what you would do for everyday laundry that needs cleaning. This is what everyone should be doing for their health: eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising in moderation, avoiding toxins, minimizing stress, etc. He asks everyone to do a two-week ‘soak and scrub’ first, and this should help with many health issues. He compares this to everyday laundry cleaning with detergent, but no special spot cleaning or bleach. This is just what you need to do to keep your genes clean! 

His ‘soak and scrub’ recommendations will be quite familiar to Supper’s members. When it comes to eating, his recommendations are: Eat only three meals daily and aim for a 12- to 16-hour fast overnight. Eat with family, not electronics. Limit the volume of liquids with meals and avoid cold liquids with meals. Eat organic. Eat only until you are 80% full. He recommends eating: fish, eggs, meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wild rice, quinoa and gluten-free oats. You should avoid processed foods or anything supplemented with folic acid. Dr. Lynch recommends cooking your own meals as preparing food prepares you to digest by causing stomach acid to be released.

He makes similar recommendations for addressing environmental toxins, sleep, and stress. 

After completing two weeks of ‘soak and scrub’, any genes that are still ‘dirty’ and causing symptoms can be ‘spot cleaned’. By spot cleaning he means doing specific things based on which SNPs are affecting you (there are quizzes throughout the book). Spot cleaning can involve taking supplements, using sauna and exercise to help with detox, following a diet with more or less protein etc. depending on your symptoms.

Doctor Lynch emphasizes that this is not a pill for an ill program. He does not recommend getting genetic testing and then taking supplements based on the results. He stresses that supplements themselves can cause problems if taken when not necessary, and recommends a pulse method, taking supplements where you reduce the dose once you feel better. He suggests that most of the effects of our various SNPs can be addressed through diet and lifestyle; therefore, supplements should be a short-term help to getting back on track. 

There are four thousand SNPs that may potentially alter genetic function. This book focuses on the seven most likely to have an impact on health. The middle section of the book consists of descriptions of these genes and quizzes to help you determine if you may be having problems with these genes. 

The Genes:

MTHFR: SNPs that affect MTHFR function are common and have a wide range of effects on health. MTHFR initiates the methylation cycle, which provides methyl groups to at least 200 functions in your body. MTHFR can be ‘dirty’ because of SNPs or because of a diet lacking in leafy greens. Common symptoms include: brain fog anxiety, depression, irritability, chemical sensitivity, mood swings, and hypothyroidism. 

COMT: SNPs in the COMT gene affect how quickly neurotransmitters are broken down, and consequently, how quickly you calm down from stress. A slow COMT breaks down neurotransmitters slowly, so that you stay focused and wound up for longer, resulting in high productivity but also high anxiety. A fast COMT breaks down neurotransmitters quickly, resulting in an easygoing personality but difficulty concentrating.

DAO: SNPs in the DAO gene can lead to histamine intolerance. Symptoms include food sensitivities and allergic reactions, carsickness, leaky gut, and migraine. 

MAOA: SNPS in the MAOA gene affect processing of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. SNPs can create either a fast or a slow MAOA, resulting in either an excess or a deficiency in these neurotransmitters. Symptoms of a slow MAOA include difficulty falling asleep, overactive startle reflex, headaches, irritability, mood swings, and trouble relaxing and powering down. Symptoms of a fast MAOA include alcoholism and other addictions, ADHD, carb and sugar cravings, depression, difficulty staying asleep, fatigue and flat affect. 

GST/GPX: SNPs in these genes interfere with your body's ability to detoxify things such as pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical drugs. GST attaches glutathione to these compounds allowing them to then be excreted. Symptoms of dirty GST or GPX genes include hypersensitivity to chemicals, increased inflammation, high blood pressure, early gray or white hair, chronic fatigue, memory problems, and irritability.

NOS3: SNPs in NOS3 reduce production of nitric oxide which is necessary to keep blood vessels dilated. If blood vessels aren’t properly dilated, they can't deliver enough blood which means they can't deliver enough oxygen. Your biggest users of oxygen are your heart and your brain, so depleting those tissues of oxygen can result in heart attacks and strokes. Low nitric oxide can also make your platelets sticky, which causes clots where you don't need them leading to stroke or heart attack. When your blood vessels don't dilate properly, it leads to high blood pressure. Symptoms of a dirty NOS3 include angina, anxiety, cold hands and feet, depression, erectile dysfunction, mouth breathing, sinus congestion, slow healing, and high blood pressure. 

PEMT: The PEMT gene helps your body produce phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is the primary component in cell membranes. When you have enough of it, your cells absorb nutrients properly and you can make new cells as needed. Phosphatidylcholine is also important in moving triglycerides out of your liver, and in brain, nerve, and muscle function. Symptoms of a dirty PEMT include fatigue, fatty liver, gallbladder disorders, inflammation, malnourishment, pregnancy complications, SIBO, elevated triglycerides and muscle weakness.

The book ends with appendices full of information on lab testing, DNA testing, air quality testing, toxin free personal care products etc. It also ends with these words of wisdom: 

“SNPs have been around as long as humans have. The most important things to consider are lifestyle, diet, mindset, and the environment….SNPs absolutely can impact the function of a gene by slowing it down or speeding it up. However, even a single industrial chemical, such as mercury or aluminum, can impact hundreds of genes – and way more significantly than a single SNP or even a dozen SNPs.”