The power of genetics

Having studied cell biology and biochemistry at university, I am partial to a biochemical pathway – and seeing how these can be influenced by nutrition – for good or for ill. I find that knowing your genetics can be particularly helpful for those that are experiencing histamine intolerance, as it can give real insight into which biochemical pathways may need particular support in you.

Our internal factory

You may recall from your school days (or from the second round of GCSEs with your own kids) – that enzymes act as biological catalysts, helping reactions along, supporting the transformation of the reactants to the products. I think of these enzymes as workers on a factory production line – each doing their own job, often putting something together, or pulling it apart as needed. As any factory boss will know, some of these workers are likely more efficient than others. Some need a couple of cups of coffee to get them going, others have a broken arm and others are distracted by their phone or the girl opposite. It could also be that some of these workers may be capable of working much faster but are waiting for the chap before them to finish what they are doing, or keep having things they need nicked by other people, or keep getting called into important meetings…

Our enzymes are no different! Their efficiency (or lack of it) at supporting a particular reaction in the body is in part written in our genes: The genetic code forms the instructions for making the enzymes, and a change in the code can mean a change in the structure of the enzyme made. Mostly these changes make enzymes less efficient, but sometimes they can improve their ability to do their job. However, their efficiency also depends on the presence of the reactants (the things coming along the production line that they need to work on), the supply of nutrients that they need to work optimally (like that chap who needs his coffee, many enzymes require zinc, say), the presence of things that prevent them from working so well (for example heavy metals), or the need to prioritise a different job.

Why does this talk of enzymes matter to us? Well – knowing whether we have particular genetic variants (and thus efficiency of particular enzymes), can give us greater insight into why we are experiencing particular symptoms, and what we can do to support ourselves better.

Genetics of histamine breakdown

If we look at histamine breakdown for example, there are potential variants of the DAO enzyme (which breaks histamine down in the gut), of HNMT (the histamine n-methyl transferase) which is required for methylation of histamine, and the NAT2 (N-acetyltransferase 2), which acetylates histamine. If you have these variants you are starting off with a disadvantage – you have a higher propensity to experience high histamine symptoms – but this doesn’t mean you definitely will.

There is a common phrase amongst nutritional therapists that your genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger. If you know that the way your enzymes are made they have a tendency to be less efficient, you can make sure that you are giving them an abundance of what they need to do their job (the nutrient co-factors), and reduce the presence of inhibitors (aka distractions) so they can at least work as fast as they are capable of. And this may be faster than someone with genetically-determined efficient enzymes, with a lack of nutrient-co factors and lots of inhibitors present.

In the picture above you can see the nutrient co-factors of the histamine breakdown pathway labelled in purple and the inhibitors in orange. The enzymes are labelled with the dots next to them- green means they are efficient, whereas in this case the yellow and red mean that you have one or two variants of the gene (respectively), and the reaction may not be going as fast as it otherwise might.

Getting tested

These reports are created by Lifecode Gx which is a great company that only chooses to look at genetic variants that you can do something about (through changing diet and lifestyle), and those that are well studied in the literature as having a marked difference on function. They have a wide range of reports (other than this histamine report), looking at methylation, detoxification, hormones (including oestrogen and thyroid production and use), neurotransmitters and metabolism.

Genetics are only one part of the puzzle, however, and knowing what is going on at this level is not essential. Knowledge is power however (if you do something to act on it), and understanding your genetics can really help to identify where you personally may need more support – with histamine intolerance or beyond.

If you are interested in finding out more, then do get in touch. I’d be happy to talk through the testing options that are available, and how these could help you understand and support your own health.

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