My collapse into “Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder”, as diagnosed by one of my psychiatrists, happened in September 2017. I was working seven days a week from 6am to 10pm everyday using stimulants to keep up the pace and then sleeping tablets to quickly fall asleep. That September, it all came to a head. Multiple clients needed urgent work delivered all at the same time. I started to get chest pains so eventually my wife made me go to the doctor who told me I was in serious trouble health-wise.
“To be "stressed-out" is to be human. Our flight or fright response is as ancient as we are. The problem comes in when we remain in an unchecked, stressed-out state, over an extended period of time making us tired and sick, and this is exactly what Murray did! I'm always amazed by the role stress plays in ill health. Sometimes it’s years of unsupported stress and other times their illness is preceded by an acute, traumatic event. I'm also amazed how glibly all of us brush over our stress - for some of us it's a badge for our hard work, sometimes we are addicted to the effects of cortisol and sometimes it is just a bad habit. When it comes to your unique stress response, genomics has enabled us to see that it is not "a one size fits all" and that you are unique in the way you perceive stress and metabolise stress hormones". - Margie
I immediately started handing clients and work to my business partner and staff and took my foot right off the gas into December, which I then took off completely. But the damage was done and the rest in December hardly helped.
My memory had collapsed, my ability to concentrate went out the window, my energy levels were incredibly low and I had sunk into depression. Exercise didn’t help, in fact it wiped me out for a day or two afterwards. Alcohol had the same effect. I spent Christmas Day in bed because I just couldn’t face dealing with people. I also missed my cousin-in-law’s 50th a few months later because of it.
On very bad days, I couldn’t even read. It was too much effort. On bad days, I could do no work whatsoever, but could at least read so I would sit at my desk staring at my screen hoping my energy would return so I could work. My productivity on a good day, was at best 50%, 3-4 hours of proper work if I was lucky.
On a good day, there were windows of some energy but they were so random that every day I would end up sitting at my desk hoping to get some work done. If I knew why I had energy one day and not the other I could have planned to take off or work, but without that certainty and task lists growing, even on a massively reduced workload, it meant I had to try every day. Taking six months off to do nothing was not an option.
The last three years were a very dark, black-hole in my life. Depression is the worst thing I have ever experienced and I don’t think what I had even comes close to what those with bi-polar have to endure. The lights were on but my brain felt like it was stuck in syrup. Getting anything done required superhuman effort, even on a good day.
"So, what was happening beneath the surface of what Murray is describing? When you perceive stress, your hypothalamus, a small portion of your brain located above the brainstem, stimulates your pituitary, a small gland near the base of your brain. It releases a hormone into the bloodstream called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When that hormone reaches your adrenal glands, they, in turn, produce extra adrenalin (also known as epinephrine) along with other hormones called glucocorticoids (cortisol is one of these). For some of us, our genetic variations in the key genes involved in the stress response and metabolism mean that this biochemical domino effect results in us either having a heightened ACTH response, or you may take longer to metabolise the stress hormones through your liver; making vulnerable to adrenal burnout and fatigue.
What does chronic stress look like? Joining the dots between stress and disease is a great place to start your transformation. Stress alone can cause a leaky GUT, immune dysfunction, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, poor methylation (which is very true in Murray’s case) and hormonal imbalances. In Murray’s case his genetic predispositions in key genes such as MTHFR, MnSOD and IL-1B meant that unsupported stress PLUS unsupported genetic pathways resulted in depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and poor gene expression. Put all of these together and you can easily see how Murray tipped into a chronic diseased state, which as you will read, is exceedingly difficult to crawl back from". - Margie
My recovery was a particularly frustrating affair. In the end I saw thirteen doctors including GP’s, a physician, a psychologist, two psychiatrists and two endocrinologists, integrative health specialists etc. I tried four or five different antidepressants and stimulants and eventually found one that didn’t hammer me with side effects. But although I could get some work done on a more regular basis, I still wasn’t better and was still struggling to get more than four good hours a day in.
Eventually, my sister who has an interest in genetics, got me to go and see a doctor who works with genetic tests. I had my genes tested and it came back with some interesting results. I was prescribed various supplements that made a huge difference, but I was still not completely better. I took myself off the anti-depressants (not recommended) but the ones I was on didn’t require a careful weaning process. I was OK but still had days where I could not work, although they were getting less.
So, I started reading about my personal genetics results. As an accountant, this was a particularly difficult task. Trying to understand what an SNP is, genomes, mutations and more. Then there are all the complicated cycles like methylation that multiple genes impact. The genetics test ranked certain genes Very High, High, Medium, Low and No Impact, so I started at the top of the list and focussed on the Very High and High impact genes. The problem, I later discovered, is you can’t look at a gene in isolation, you need to look at pathways which are impacted by lots of different genes and I think it’s why a lot of doctors don’t believe in genetics to solve health problems.
However, I eventually discovered that my double mutation on the MTHFR gene meant that I had a 30% efficiency at breaking down the man-made version of Vitamin B9 known as folic acid. In other words, after fifty years and a massive stress incident, it was basically toxic to me. So I stopped eating cereals, Energy Bars and other foodstuffs that are visibly fortified with folic acid but I was still battling.
Still researching, I stumbled upon the fact that globally, most wheat, maize, rice and even dairy products are all industrially fortified with folic acid which explained why Saturday was a write off after eating a pizza on Friday night. This was my single biggest breakthrough. The improvement in my health after I cut out bread, pasta, pizza, rice and anything that had those cereals in them was amazing. For the first time in many years I had glimpses of that sparkle in life again. But I still wasn’t quite there. I had worked out what my Achilles Heel was but not how to get the sparkle back.
Again, my sister recommended I chat to her friend, Margie Gander who is a Nutrigenomist. Margie looked at my genes test and put the rest of the puzzle together by looking at the pathways instead of just the genes. She then designed a supplement plan that is already having a positive impact although it will take weeks, perhaps a few months for me to get back to showroom condition. I am back on my bike and exercising again and things are really looking good again.
Margie said I was one of the more complicated cases she has seen so there is real hope for most of you out there struggling with the awful health impacts that modern day food and lifestyle is having on us.
So what are my takeaways from this? Firstly, we all know stress is a killer but we only accept that as a fact when it is too late, mainly because we don’t really have a choice. But if you step back, you do actually have a choice. I was a control freak. I still am and I still believe nobody can do it better than me but I have also learnt to “let it go”, give others a chance to prove themselves and in most cases, they get the job done. I just needed to build in the checkpoints to keep them on the path I needed them to follow. Productivity is up and I am doing less work.
"In the past, people have sort solutions for their health issues only when they notice symptoms and signs of illness. Genomics has changed this, as now we can determine our genetic predispositions and therefore make choices that prevent getting sick. I other words, you can now work from the "roots" up and not from the "rotten fruit" down".- Margie
Linked to that, and perhaps thirdly, is diet. If you are not 100% sparkly well, its almost guaranteed that you are eating or drinking something that your body struggles to deal with. That post-nasal drip you have had since you were a kid, the very dry skin, the anxiety you have, its often diet related. Cutting rubbish out often helps but to really get the full benefits of eating or not eating something, I highly recommend you get somebody like Margie to have a look at your genes. For instance, raw broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables has sulphoraphane in it which I need to support another pathway. Fortunately, there is a sulphoraphane supplement and I need to take this to make sure that my methylation cycle methylates. So merely getting rid of folic acid is not good enough for me. I also need to boost the other side of the picture which I would never have known without a genetics test. I am likely to have to supplement for the rest of my life but for those with less complicated genetic mutations, by just eating right for your genes, you may not even have to supplement once you are sorted out.
Lastly, a note on folic acid because it makes me so angry. Last century it became mandatory in a lot of countries that cereal products are fortified with folic acid because research showed a 30-50% reduction in spina bifida birth defects. However, depending on ethnicity, up to 50% of the population has at least one MTHFR mutation and its estimated up to 30% of people have a double mutation like me. This means that in some parts of the world, folic acid is not good for up to 50% of the population. Even worse, folic acid is prescribed to women who want to get pregnant and during pregnancy, but research is showing that for women who have MTHFR mutations, the folic acid is causing miscarriages because it disrupts the methylation cycle which is key to the development of a healthy baby. People with MTHFR mutations should avoid folic acid and use the natural form, methylfolate instead.
"What does 'the stress genotype' look like? Some of us are much more susceptible to stress due to our genotype for the key genes involved. Knowing what your stress genotype looks like, goes a long way in understanding why you suffer from chronic stress, and stress-related symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and depression. It is important for you to look at your genetic variations for each of these genes in order to gauge your overall predisposition towards stress. The genes that are tested to determine this are FBKP5, OXTR, COMT, MTHFR, MTRR, MTR, BDNF, OPRM1, and MnSOD. Each of these genes use a very specific nutrient cofactor to either upregulate or downregulate its expression in your biochemistry. Knowing what your genetic variations are in each of these genes will empower you to make better, more personalised diet and supplement choices so that you can prevent stress-related illnesses such as Murry’s". - Margie
If Murray's story sounds like it could be your story, then you can start your personalised health and stress transformation journey today. MY DNA CHOICES and DOUGHGETTERS are offering you a 15% discount of the GENE-WELL + GENE-DIET test.
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Written by Murray Barenston CA (SA) and commentary by Marguerite Doig-Gander, Founder at MY DNA CHOICES.
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