After over a decade working with children with inattention,
hyperactivity, and impulsivity, I can honestly say that nothing has been more
practice changing in a positive manner as the implementation of Genetic
For many years
I had been utilizing other great Functional Medicine lab reports to help
families understand and find solutions for their child’s brain health concerns.
One of those labs was the Neurolab, which looks at neurotransmitter imbalances.
Within the last couple of years, I have found that a Gene Analysis is a
Neurolab’s best friend and faithful sidekick.
Where the Neurolab looks at specific neurotransmitter levels, a
proper Gene Analysis looks at how well those brain chemicals are being
utilized. Through this analysis we have an idea on:
• How Fast or Slow a person may be creating
• How Fast or Slow a person may be receiving
neurotransmitters into the neurons
• How Fast or Slow a person may be storing neurotransmitters
in the brain
• How Fast or Slow a person may be degrading
The Neurolab has
always been phenomenal in helping parents understand what brain chemical
imbalances their child currently has. The Gene Analysis takes it a step further
by giving parents greater insight into why those imbalances may be happening in
the first place. Not only that, the Gene Analysis also can give very intricate
details of what may give a more balanced neuro profile.
A Gene is effectively the blueprint of the body that gives
instructions to make specific enzymes. Those enzymes then go on to speed up
chemical reactions within a person. Regarding brain health, there are genes
that make specific enzymes which are responsible for speeding up the creation,
reception, storing, and degrading of neurotransmitters. This can greatly affect
a person’s overall brain function.
Let’s look at this in action.
The brain has a
gene called COMT which is responsible for making the enzyme called the COMT
enzyme. The C in this abbreviation stands for Catecholamines. Catecholamines
are the excitatory neurotransmitters consisting of Dopamine, Norepinephrine,
and Epinephrine that all play a great role in focus, motivation, learning,
memory, and vigilance. In the case of the COMT enzyme, its role is to speed up
the degradation of these excitatory neurotransmitters.
The COMT gene,
just like all other genes, can have variations (mutations in the gene which are
also called SNPs). Depending upon the specific gene variation, it can make an
enzyme function at a FASTER rate or a SLOWER rate.
A person who
has a FASTER functioning COMT enzyme would be degrading those neurotransmitters
at a faster rate meaning possibly lowered catecholamines. A person with this
type of variation may have less focus and less motivation. However, this person
may also be a very calm person as catecholamines can also make us anxious and
easily frustrated when they are in excess.
A person who has a SLOWER functioning COMT enzyme would be
degrading those neurotransmitters at a slower rate meaning possibly increased
levels of catecholamines. This person may have great focus and motivation due
to the higher levels of excitatory neurotransmitters but may also have a short
temper and be prone to anxiety.
A Child’s Genetic Story
A Genetic Story is what I call an instance when a person
has several gene variations with similar function that are all contributing to
a specific neurotransmitter imbalance.
For example, let’s say we have a child who is very unmotivated
and inattentive. The parents do a gene analysis for the child and find that the
child has a FASTER COMT gene variation. This could lead the child to having
lower levels of those catecholamines. That alone could be a cause of this
child’s lack of motivation and poor focus. But when we inquire further into the
gene analysis, it is also found that the child has variations in other genes as
well that further exacerbate the imbalance by:
• Decreasing the production of Dopamine in the brain
• Decreasing the reception of Dopamine and Norepinephrine in
• Decreasing the storage of Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and
Epinephrine in the brain
additional gene variations combined with the FASTER COMT may lead to very low
levels of those excitatory neurotransmitters. This may cause that child’s brain
to be incredibly lacking in stimulation.
Epigenetics – How Lifestyle Affects Gene Expression
Nothing in a
Genetic Analysis is very useful without the understanding of Epigenetics and
how we can make that gene expression work for our child.
For the unmotivated, unfocused
child that I just spoke of, an increase in excitatory neurotransmitters is what
is needed to help this child become better focused and motivated. To accomplish
this we can implement several strategies. For starters, we can supplement the
child with amino acids and vitamins such as L-tyrosine and B12 respectively.
Both L-tyrosine and B12 are co-factors that help to create the
neurotransmitters Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Epinephrine. We could also
increase focus by making changes to the child’s diet. Increasing the
consumption of protein and fat and decreasing the consumption of processed
carbohydrates has been shown to increase focus. Finally, we may need to really
look at lessening such activities as screen time. Although screen time does
give an initial boost in dopamine, it uses dopamine up quickly like a race car
burning through fuel. This will leave very little dopamine for other
concentrating tasks such as school work. A child such as this already has too
little dopamine as it is. The last thing the child needs is to be lowering it
further through excessive gaming or other screen time activities.
There are countless ways in
which a child’s genetics could be affecting their brain health and behavior.
When we understand the child’s genetic profile, we can start to implement the
right solutions for diet, supplementation, and lifestyle changes. This has far
reaching implications as your genetics do not change. Therefore teaching the
child today how to have optimal brain function based on their genetics is
information that the child can use and revisit for the rest of their life.
Dwight Franklin, MSOM, L.Ac is the founder of The Franklin
Family Wellness Institute and the creator of “The Elementary Method.” He is a
graduate and former Professor of the Florida College of Integrative Medicine.
Over the course of his career, Dwight has worked alongside pediatricians and
psychiatrists in developing wellness programs to optimize brain health in
children and adults.
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