Ya’ know when I was writing this article I almost titled it “Your Personality isn’t Unique”, but who would want to read that??? That’s just mean! I assure you your personality is very unique. You know, just like everyone else. Kidding aside, although it may be unique, it probably isn’t as random as previously thought. Now how your parents met might be completely random. Such as if your mother was from Brooklyn and found herself stranded in the wilderness of Alaska and just so happened to stumble across your father in the freezing air while he happened to be setting the world record for longest amount of time spent in subzero temperatures…..nude……
But your personality and demeanor are not quite as fun. I mean random. What?
I find it interesting how often genetics are referred to in conversation yet it is almost used like a “get out of jail free card” or maybe a back handed compliment. “How can someone eat all that crap and stay lean? It must be their genetics.” “I would be a world champion sprinter but I just don’t have the genetics for it.” Yes, yes, I’m sure your training, nutrition, work ethic, and discipline have nothing to do with your shortcomings.
The truth is that although our genetics may shape us, they don’t necessarily define us. Or at least not always.
The fields of Epigenetics and Nutrigenomics are exploding and I believe is undoubtedly the future of preventative medicine and health care. These areas of study investigate the relationship between our environment and nutritional intake, with what’s called our “genetic expression”. Think of it like that brand new, state of the art treadmill you have in your basement that has a healthy layer of dust over it. Just because you have it doesn’t mean it’s turned on or being used. Cough cough no I’m not pointing fingers.
This can be a good thing cause’ I mean think about it! We have the genetic code to grow a third eyeball in our bicep so why aren’t you winking at the lady’s while flexing for them in a grotesque yet subtly provocative manner right now? Fortunately for them, and your dignity, those genes in the cells of your biceps are “turned off”.
So what does this have to do with your personality and demeanor? Well if you have ever lived with a woman you might understand a thing or two about how hormones can kinda’ sorta’ influence a person’s mood. Hormones are indeed our signaling molecules that regulate basically everything our body does. This definitely includes your mood, personality, and demeanor. Now I’m not going to get into a full on endocrinology lecture right now, but we will focus on the “neurohormones” for now. These amino acid based neurotransmitters control central nervous system activity and directly drive your mental energy, clarity, focus, motivation, joy, sadness, anger, etc.
Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/37999190579586238/
As you can see from the chart above, there are many neurotransmitters that all play a specific role in influencing your body and behavior. So just like anything else in the body, in order for these signaling molecules to be made there has to be adequate substrate, properly working enzymes, and co-factors necessary to produce the end product. On the other side of that equation there must also be properly working enzymes and adequate co-factor nutrients to break down the molecule to halt its signal.
As the chart depicts, Dopamine is created from the amino acid L-Tyrosine. So it might seem like just taking a little supplemental tyrosine might do the trick to help boost your mental performance right? Unfortunately it’s not nearly that simple. The steps to make dopamine from L-Tyrosine are as follows:
1) Tyrosine must be converted to L-Dopa by the enzyme Tyrosine Hydroxylase with the help of tetrahydrobiopterin, iron, and oxygen as co-factors.
2) L-Dopa must be converted to Dopamine by the enzyme Dopa Decarboxylase (DDC), using vitamin B6 in the form of pyridoxal phosphate as a cofactor.
Once Dopamine has done its job, it can be metabolized a few ways:
1) It can be further modified to form Norepinephrine via Dopamine beta hydroxylase using vitamin C, and eventually epinephrine with the help of s-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe).
2) It can be inactivated by COMT (catechol-o-methyl-transferase) or MAO (mono-amine-oxidase) with the help of SAMe, magnesium, and FAD.
3) Or it can also be degraded through the sulfation pathway via SULT1A3 using PAPS (phosphoadenosine phosphosulfate).
Stop. Deep breath. Ommmmmmmmm.
Alrighty’. So as you can see things get pretty complex pretty quick when we’re dealing with cellular signaling. Now the above pathway is just an example of how one of these neuromodulators is created and degraded. So in order for that entire process to go smoothly, as I stated above, you have to supply your body with the adequate nutrients to do so AND have properly functioning enzymes.
This brings us back to our genetic conversation earlier. Enzymes are protein molecules that serve as the body’s machinery to make things happen. Our wonderful double helices that we have wrapped up in the chromosomes of all of our cells are what dictate how our proteins are made. So imagine if you are an engineer about to build a skyscraper and you receive the blue prints from your architect to find that there is a big coffee stain on part of it! If you were to go ahead and try to build the skyscraper even with the stain blocking part of the design, you’d most likely end up with a building lacking structural integrity! That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!
So what happens when our genetic code has a “coffee stain”?
Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) are essentially like that coffee stain. It is a variation in the instructions to form your proteins, or in the context of our conversation, your enzymes.
Some SNPs can drastically change the functional capacity of an enzyme and impair its ability to do what it was meant to do. So go back and re-read all of those steps to synthesize and metabolize dopamine from above. Imagine if something was wrong with the function of any of those enzymes. What happens? Dopamine and its metabolites would not be produced or broken down appropriately which could lead to some unwanted health effects.
This, in its essence, is exactly why your personality isn’t random. Our genetics lay the instructions to make our body’s machinery. If there are variations in the code we end up with machinery that works differently. Thus some people may be genetically predisposed to producing more serotonin, or perhaps rather, not breaking down serotonin as effectively. Over the span of that person’s life they may very well be perceived as a joyous and happy individual. Likewise, that individual could have a sibling that by nature might be more inclined to higher levels of dopamine and consequentially more noradrenaline and adrenaline. Such a person might be high strung, type A, highly motivated, and have a hard time relaxing. Cough cough I don’t know anything about that.
Now not all genetic mutations are extremely relevant and there is a lot more research to be done before we get past the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to using genetics in preventative medicine. With that said though, genetic testing is on the rise and becoming more and more accessible and there have been some major findings pertaining to some key genetic mutations. Some of the genes with identified SNPs relevant to this article are:
The exact mechanisms of each goes beyond the scope of this discussion, but a SNP in any of these can dramatically change the metabolism of your neurotransmitters (amongst many, many, many other things) and in turn, changing your demeanor.
I’m a firm believer in that your health starts in the mind. Before you go running to do some genetic testing, realize that you’re not going to be able to change your DNA. Worrying about the fine print isn’t going to do you much good if you aren’t eating a proper diet of real food from the earth, moving frequently with purpose, managing your stress, getting adequate restorative sleep, and gaining exposure to your natural environment. With that said, there are many specific strategies to optimize your biochemistry that can be readily applied to help you feel your best!
If you’ve been in a slump, mental rut, or low point, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look!
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