1. COMT (catecholamine O-methyl transferase) is an enzyme used in many different tissues. But its job in the brain (specifically around dopamine) is the one that bears the most attention.
When we are stressed — whether it is physical stress (running to catch a flight) or perceived stress (worrying about uncompleted tasks) — our body enters fight-or-flight mode, producing hormones such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine to help us deal with the stress.
Once the stressor has ended or diminished, the brain has to break these hormones down. Their job is done, and it’s time to get rid of them. This is where COMT comes into play.
There are 3 genetic forms of the COMT enzyme: fast, slow, and medium.
About 20 percent of people have the fast form, which means they break down their dopamine three to five times faster than people with the slow form.
Some 30 percent of people have the slow form, which means they break down their dopamine 40 percent slower than those with the fast form
The rest of the population has the medium form, which means their dopamine levels will fall in an in-between range.
Research has shown that people with the fast COMT enzyme tend to be risk takers, procrastinators, more prone to addiction, and may seek out stressful situations. But they often have greater flexibility switching between tasks. These people gave been dubbed “warriors.”
In contrast, people with the slow COMT enzyme may feel more overwhelmed, be more sensitive to pain, and have a greater stress or worry response (which could lead to anxiety). However, they tend to have greater focus on tasks, increased creativity and improved phase II sleep. These people are often called “worriers.”
Understanding this information about your COMT status can help you understand why you react in certain ways to situations.
2. APOE is another gene that has received a lot of attention for its role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The job of this gene is to code for a transporter (apolipoprotein E) that moves cholesterol around the body and it helps get rid of beta-amyloid. Too much beta-amyloid in the brain can lead to plaques that are thought to trigger the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Research also suggests this gene can lead to changes in the way the brain handles glucose (sugar), and cholesterol transport in the brain, leading to increased oxidative stress.
The APOE gene comes in 3 different forms: ApoE2, ApoE3, and ApoE4. These are determined by the alleles you inherit from each parent. For example, if you get an E4 allele from your mom and you get an E4 from your dad, then you are considered a E4/E4.
Approximately 70 percent of the population are APOE3, while some 10 percent are APOE2, and about 20% APOE4.
The APOE4 form has been associated with increased cardiovascular risk and the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. More specifically, having one APOE4 allele increases the chance of developing Alzheimer’s by three times.
Thankfully, even if you do have APOE4, you can support this gene and decrease your chance of becoming afflicted with Alzheimer’s through some of the following lifestyle changes: limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, and including lots of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
3. HFE codes for human homeostatic iron regulator protein. This protein interacts with another protein called hepcidin, which monitors how much iron comes into the body from your diet and if the body needs to release extra iron from its stores.
A variant in this gene makes hepcidin less sensitive to how much iron is being absorbed or released from body stores. This condition, which increases the amount of iron in the body, is called hemochromatosis. If you have this gene, it is important to monitor your iron levels, especially your ferritin levels; a goal ferritin range is 50-150ng/dl.
Men and postmenopausal women with this gene are especially at risk for excess iron in the body (because they don’t have a way to get rid of iron), which can increase the amount of iron deposits in organs and lead to oxidative stress.
The good news is that a trip to your local Red Cross to donate blood can help you decrease your iron levels (if your blood tests show high ferritin levels) and save up to three lives in the process.
For more information on how to find out about your gene status, visit toolboxgenomics.com.
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