My Happy Genes

Depression and Genetics

Is depression caused by genetics?  It’s not a simple answer, however, in many common disorders like depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure genes can be an influence. Many tests show that depression can be a combination of genetic changes that predispose some people to become ill.  In her book “My Happy Genes – Finding compassion for ourselves through understanding our genes” Dr. J Dunn explains how genes factor into depression and what can be done to help.Weight Relief with MyHappyGenes

Depressed People by Dr. J. Dunn

Depression is rampant in our society.  Perhaps some of us are guilty of thinking depressed people in our lives should just “buck up” and be grateful for what they have.  In working with depressed patients through the years, I had some success—but nothing spectacular—until I began working with the genetic variants explained in the work with methylation and genetic defects.  While there can be a myriad of different causes for depression, genetic variants can be particularly causative. Specifically, the vitamin D receptor (VDR) gene can cause a person to be apathetic and depressed due to low dopamine and adrenalin levels.  Dopamine is a catecholamine that is a precursor of adrenaline (an adrenal hormone associated with energy). Dopamine itself is a neurotransmitter that has a powerful effect on our reward system. Low dopamine levels have been associated with depression and addictive behavior.

I have a theory about how low dopamine levels may provide support for the philosophical reasons for the founding of America.  It began with folks who were tired of their circumstances in other countries and who were looking for more rewarding lives. Our “founding fathers” must have had very low dopamine levels to have risked everything in order to travel far and wide in search of new lands and new ways of doing things.  As a consequence, our country is full of people who are low-dopamine types. They are often workaholics who can never stop. The acquisition of “things” seems to be their goal in life. But they are also always looking for better ways to do things. This innovative, pioneering characteristic is common in people who have genetic variants in their VDR or in their dopamine receptors in the brain. Vitamin D, when it is adequate, facilitates the enzymes that make dopamine in our brains. When dopamine levels are adequate, we feel a sense of peacefulness and gratitude, and we are able to relax and enjoy our lives more easily. We find balance in our lives between work and enjoyment.  

So, if you think about Americans in general (as well as some people from other countries), we are always in search of something new, different, better.  Bigger houses, faster cars, more money, love, sex, and rock and roll. We have become workaholics because that’s how we “get ahead.” We work even while on vacation, with sneaking peaks at our cell phones or squeezing in a call here and there while in the car.  We just can’t seem to stop. I think the addiction to our phones is indicative of low dopamine in our brains. We are waiting for the “hit” of a phone call or text or email that will fire up the reward centers in the brain. 

This drive makes for a very innovative and hardworking society. However, it can also lead to a great deal of depression and exhaustion.  Many other countries have developed good practices that we just can’t seem to follow. Spain, for instance, takes two-to-four-hour breaks in the middle of the day.  The siesta for shops and businesses is generally from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., while bars and restaurants close from about 4 p.m. until about 8 or 9 p.m. In addition, other countries allow for lengthy employee vacations every year, and many companies give their employees up to a year off for childbirth. Americans could really benefit from these practices. The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. According to Wikipedia: “US law does not require employers to grant any vacation or holidays, and about 25 percent of all employees receive no paid vacation time or paid holidays.” By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation for workers working a 5-day work week year-round.

Two other common genetic variants that are associated with depression are the MTHFR and the MTRR genetic SNiPs.  These two variants lead to low levels of B12 and folic acid in the body, which are critical for making neurotransmitters.  Without these raw ingredients, we are doomed to have low levels of serotonin and dopamine, two of the most important neurotransmitters for normal brain function.  This lack makes us depressed and apathetic. According to the June 2005 journal of Archives of General Psychiatry, this major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27).

Dr. J Dunn H2

The Compassion Piece

The world is full of prejudice, and we are completely unaware of much of it.  We don’t realize how often we make judgments about people whom we have never met.  However, prejudice is useful in some ways. It allows us to sort data and make decisions based on past experience.  Some prejudice though is disabling and deleterious to our happiness. Empathy for ourselves or others can help turn this around.  Some of our preconceived notions of what and who we are are entirely beyond our control: They are of genetic origin. Our species has survived because we have adapted to our environment and living conditions.  We have learned to survive adverse conditions, including famine and high-stress circumstances.

In her book, Dr. J. Dunn explores issues into why you are the way you are and how you can make changes. It’s a whole new paradigm in understanding what causes disease and mental health issues. The basis of the book talks about how to bypass your genetic makeup to help change destructive behaviors such as overeating, substance abuse, and anger.