IMMUNE SYSTEM

Methylation Imbalance: How it could be impacting your health.

Are you an allergy sufferer? Frequent headaches? Prone to depression or anxiety?

A methylation imbalance may underpin your issues.

You may have heard of methylation, read some articles and thought “it sounds complicated”. Methylation is a complex process, but I’m here to break down and deliver the essential information so you discern if a methylation imbalance might be impacting on your health.


What is methylation?

Methylation is a chemical process that occurs in all cells of the body. Think of it as a machine in a production line. It adds a component (a methyl group) to a material (a biological chemical) then spits it out to move on to the next machine. Methylation has numerous roles in forming certain compounds, detoxifying others and controlling their movement in and out of cells.

Some of the compounds that methylation helps to detoxify includes:

·      Histamine[1], the chemical that causes allergy symptoms of itching, redness, swelling and irritation. 

·      Certain heavy metals such as arsenic[2]

·      Oestrogen in its final stages[3], which is a cancer risk if in excess.

·      Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline[4]

You can see how a methylation imbalance has the potential to impact on numerous areas of your health. Furthermore, what’s considered a ‘personality trait’ may in fact be due to the impact methylation can have on our brain chemicals (our neurochemistry).

 
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How might a methylation imbalance present itself?

The process of methylation moving too slowly, termed undermethylation, is the most common imbalance. Typically these individuals are hard working and self motivated. Prone to perfectionism tendencies, undermethylators may set high expectations of themselves and potentially others. They are prone to seasonal allergies, hives, headaches, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), high inner tension and addictive behaviours.  

Overmethylation is less common, however can be equally as impactful on wellbeing. Overmethylators are often artistic individuals. They typically don’t respond well to mainstream interventions such as anti-depressant medication. Common health issues for an overmethylator includes hyperactivity, anxiety, panic disorders and sleep issues.


What influences methylation?

Family history

Methylation can be impacted if you have specific gene variations, otherwise called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are being expressed (more on this in a moment). Natural health practitioners will often look at the MTHFR gene located at C677T and A1298C, though there are many other genes that can impact your ability to methylate. If you have inherited the gene variation from both parents (termed homozygous) you are more likely to develop a methylation issue. This may in part explain why tendencies toward allergies and mental health issues run in families, and also why they are amplified when both parents experience these issues.

Stress

Just because you have the genes does not automatically mean that you are stuck with a methylation imbalance. We now know, through the study of epigenetics, that internal factors (your response to stress) and external factors (pollution, smoking, diet etc.) have a huge role in how your genes are expressed i.e. genes can be ‘switched on’ or ‘switched off’. Through following a healthy lifestyle and successfully managing stress, you may be able to negate an inherited methylation issue.

Nutritional deficiencies

Our ability to methylate is very dependent on two nutritional cycles, the folate and methionine cycle. Both of these cycles have specific nutritional needs to function adequately. Methylation will falter if you are lacking in nutrients due to a poor quality diet, poor absorption of nutrients or you are excreting them too rapidly (think diarrhoea or excess caffeine).

The key nutrients involved in the folate and methionine cycles includes the vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), folate, B12 (cobalamins),[5] choline and various amino acids (proteins).


What can you do next?

As you have just learnt, stress can affect the genes that cause methylation issues, so rule no. 1 is to get the stress response under control. Take the pressure off yourself, breath deeply and give yourself the space and time to focus on calming your nervous system. Biochemical changes will follow.

To support yourself with a personalised nutritional protocol aimed at correcting methylation, find yourself a practitioner (e.g. naturopath, GP, nutritionist) who is familiar with methylation. They can do the appropriate testing, work with you to improve your diet and prescribe the correct dosing of nutrients to support your body.  


By Naturopath Lucy Mason

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS)

Experiencing ongoing, debilitating fatigue and the normal treatments don’t help? Mould illness could be responsible.

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) is the debilitating condition that flies under the radar in Australian health care. The appropriate testing to diagnose CIRS is currently limited in Australia, however an increasing amount of help is available through specialist practitioners working in the field of mould illness.

Recent parliamentary lobbying from CIRS affected MP, Lucy Wicks, offers hope that the condition may be more broadly recognised and treated amongst mainstream medical practices in Australia in the future.

If you suspect you could be affected by mould, or perhaps the cause of your symptoms has been left undiagnosed, read on to learn about CIRS and how you can claim your health back if mould is affecting you.

 

THE SYMPTOMS OF CIRS

Many internal systems are out of whack in people with CIRS, including immunity, cognition, hormones and digestion. As a practitioner or patient, it’s easy to get pulled down a rabbit hole in pursuit of an answer for each complaint, explaining why CIRS is often missed. In the search for answers in CIRS patients, it is important to take a step back and look at all the body systems collectively. If you have tried many treatments and nothing has worked for your symptoms, it is a good idea to consider CIRS.

The symptoms of CIRS can be very bizarre, and commonly include:

  • Chronic fatigue and weakness
  • Feeling much worse after exercise (post-exertion malaise)
  • Headache
  • Vertigo
  • Difficulty thinking clearly (confusion or disorientation)
  • Muscle and joint pain or cramping
  • Hypersensitive eyes
  • Cough
  • Recurrent sinus congestion
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Digestive issues
  • Propensity to static shocks

 

HOW DID I GET CIRS?

There are two things that must occur for you to develop CIRS. First, you must be genetically susceptible. You can find this out by working with a practitioner familiar with the testing options in Australia. Second, you must have had environmental exposure to mould toxins at some point in your life. Think back to the time when you felt like your health started going down hill. What environment were you living in at the time? Have you ever lived or worked in a mouldy building? Perhaps a place you once exercised or socialised is the source. It could have been a place you rarely visited.

Once you have inhaled or ingested the mould toxin and it’s in your system, your immune system is unable to bind it up and remove it from your body (thanks to your genes). So it just goes on circulating around your body causing all kinds of trouble.

The inability to bind mould toxins explains why many individuals who have CIRS experience symptoms long after mould exposure. That said, the symptoms of CIRS are generally exacerbated by repeated exposure to mould, so you may find that your symptoms have come and gone over the years as your exposure to mould has fluctuated.

Requirement of a genetic susceptibility to mould illness illustrates why multiple people can live in a mouldy house together, however only one person gets the prolonged illness after exposure. Without the mould susceptible genes, the immune system is able to recognise mould toxins and get rid of them.

 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

If you meet the above criteria for CIRS, there are a few things you can do right now to set you on the right track.

1. Assess your current situation

First things first, you need to assess if your current environment could be making you feel worse. Start with the places you spend most of you time - your home and work environment. Does it smell musty? Can you see patches of dark mould on the ceiling (a leaking roof perhaps)? Or patches on the floor (dampness rising from below)? Is the wall or ceiling paint bubbling in places?

Your senses alone may not be enough to determine if mould toxins are present.

Leaking water pipes in the walls can create a mouldy environment invisible to the eye. Mould toxins can also persist in dust, well after the original source has dried up. Some people are so sensitive, that only the smallest amount need be inhaled to have a negative effect.

There are companies within Australia that thoroughly assess your environment for mould, so you can be sure of the mould status in your current environment. If mould toxins are present, changing your living situation may be necessary. Remediation of the environment through renovation and air filtration is another potential option.

2. Support gentle detoxification

Some patients find that supporting gentle detoxification in the body can make them feel better while they clean up their environment. It is important to take this very slowly, as too much at once can make CIRS patients feel worse. Some detoxification methods that may offer benefit include:

  • Regular infrared sauna sessions
  • Regular foot baths with Epsom (magnesium sulphate) salts
  • Consumption of fresh juice that contains chlorophyll and nutrient rich leafy plants (if food sensitivity is not an issue)
  • Herbal or nutritional supplementation to support the liver, kidneys and overall digestion
  • Coffee enemas (an unconventional practice that some report benefit from, if used appropriately).

3. Seek help

The diagnosis and treatment of CIRS is often complex and requires guidance from a CIRS trained practitioner. Natural or synthetic binders (substances that attach to mould toxins for removal from the body) are generally needed to make a full recovery, however many steps precede the use of binders in order for mould toxin removal to be done safely and without adverse effects.

As well as supporting recovery, a practitioner can provide additional resources and education so that you can go through life preventing CIRS reoccurrence. You can find a list of CIRS trained practitioners in Australia at the Toxic Mould Support Australia website: http://www.toxicmould.org/health-professionals/

 

By Lucy Mason, BHSc Naturopathy

Leaky Gut. Do you have it and what to do about it?

Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is linked to a whole bunch of common health complaints that we tend to just put up with or accept as being normal for my body. It has been linked to food intolerance's, acne and skin conditions, allergies and hay fever, asthma, fatigue and thyroid conditions. In addition to this, it can be associated with digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome(1). Clearly, it is very possible that you, or someone close to you, is suffering from leaky gut.

How is this possible?

To understand how leaky gut may be at the root of your symptoms, you need to know a bit about the gut. Our gut has many roles including digestion and nutrient absorption, and is an important protective barrier that monitors our internal and external environment. It also plays a massive part in the function of our immune system. For example, did you know that about 75% of our immune cells live there(2)? It also has an intimate relationship with our nervous system. Have your ever noticed that when you feel stressed or anxious, you may experience a change in bowel movements? Nervous tummy anyone?

Why do we get leaky gut?

In a healthy gut, our gut wall cells are triggered to open up and absorb good things like nutrients and keep our bad bugs and toxins out. Our digestive system is always getting triggered to open up and close but can usually keep a happy balance and recover from any minor insults. When the gut is in contact with nasty triggers like medications, parasites, chemicals and certain foods, it’s ability to close up starts to struggle. If exposure is for a short time, the barrier can return to normal, however if these stressors continue, this barrier is strained. Then the immune system, which lies beneath the gut lining, becomes overwhelmed. It loses sense of what is self and what is a potential allergen, toxin or baddie. This dysfunction starts to cause trouble to the point of developing autoimmune conditions. Remember all the conditions mentioned at the start? Yes, the gut connection is real(3)!

Nutrient diet about leaky gut

What can I do about leaky gut?

Gut health and gut healing can be a tricky, especially if other conditions are present. A great place start would be:

1.     Probiotics

Probiotics help with leaky gut because of their beneficial role in supporting the immune system in the gut wall. This is evidence of their support in a vast array of health conditions. It’s so important to understand that not all probiotics are the same and this is where clinical expertise can really help. If you react to fermented foods (a good source of probiotics) or probiotic supplements something else maybe going on including histamine intolerance. This is why it is helpful to work with someone experienced in treating gut issues(4).  

2.     High fibre foods

After putting in all the good bugs into our system, we need to feed them. High fibre foods really means a vegetable rich diet. Great fermentable foods include sweet potato, lentils, pumpkin leek, garlic, asparagus, onion. Think high FODMAP foods. Delicious(5)!

3.     Reduce aggravating factors

We don’t want to keep giving our gut triggers that upset inflammation and immune function. Our body needs the time and environment to heal. This means limit alcohol, gluten, eat organic where possible and get rid of refined carbohydrates and sugar… put down the donut(6)

4.     Manage stress – yes this can be the hardest thing to do.

We live a lifestyle that fuels the fight and flight response and neglects our rest and digest nervous system – which is hugely important for our digestive ability.  Ever experience diarrhoea when you feel anxious or constipation when feeling stressed? Whether it is journalling, deep breathing, yoga or walking, it is important to find a way to manage your emotional and mental health(7).

5.     Eat a colourful, nutrient rich diet.

For our body to function at its best, it needs good sources of nutrients from a wide range of fresh, unprocessed foods. Fill your diet with good quality protein sources, a colourful variety of vegetables and fruits and you are on your way from getting all the nutrients and antioxidants you need for a healthy gut. We give a special shout out to amino acids like glutamine and nutrients like zinc and vitamin A, which the gut just loves.

How can I find out if I have leaky gut?

If you or someone you know suffer from the above mentioned conditions, then you should be considering the health of your gut and determining if you have leaky gut. As a practitioner who just loves all things gut health related, one of the first steps I take with my patients is testing for leaky gut. My inner nerd is thrilled by this test as it a brilliant way to measure how much healing needs to be done and can be tested again to assess progress. Once we identify if you have leaky gut, it is important to determine how to treat it holistically. Not only can you experience a positive shift in your current symptoms, but also prevent complications such as autoimmunity and chronic disease in the future. Isn’t that great?

If you are interested in finding out more about this or would like to be assessed, please get in touch. Let's get to the bottom of this!

Rachel Larsson

BHSc (Naturopathy), BPH (Nutrition)

How your gut is connected to hay fever and allergies

I bet you are wondering, ‘how can my water eyes, running nose and sneezing be connected to my gut?’. As you may have noticed today, there are studies coming out linking all sorts of conditions and diseases to the health of your gut. Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is no different. 

For starters our digestive system plays a huge role in the balance of our immune system. Almost 70% of our entire immune system is located in our gut(1). For hay fever and other allergic diseases the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ was thought to have a role in the increase in allergies, with the lack of exposure to microbes in early life increasing the risk of allergies in later life(2). Now something called the 'microbiota hypothesis' is thought to play a role, meaning a change in our gut bugs influence the development of our immune system(3). Although allergies are also influenced by genetics, some of the environmental and lifestyle factors that change your gut bacteria and increase your risk for allergies include infant use of antibiotics, formula feeding and being born by caesarean section(4,5). Oppositely, growing up with pets(6), growing up on a farm(7), being born through vaginal delivery and being breast fed has been linked to positively influencing your gut’s flora to include more ‘protective strains’(4,5).

What your body does in an allergic reaction

For an allergy to exist, allergen sensitisation must first occur. Special immune cells present in the mucosal surfaces of the body such as nose, lungs and gastrointestinal tract, detect the allergen. One type of immune cells comes into contact with the allergen which are then displayed on the cell's surface. This cell then lets other immune cells know to produce antibodies (IgE) specific to the allergen. From then on, if you are exposed to that allergen, an allergic response is triggered. The allergen is identified by antibodies (IgE) causing immune cells to release inflammatory mediators, such as histamine (8). Histamine is responsible for the itchy nose and runny nose, red watery eyes and dry cough.

The gut-lung connection

The lining of your gut is structurally very similar to lining of your lungs. If you are someone with allergies, inflammation will tend to happen in both areas, as it is thought that leaky gut may have a role in 'leaky lungs'. Our gut flora are also likely have a major impact on the integrity of the lung tissue(9).

Histamine and your gut

You may think histamine is the bad guy because it is linked to your allergies, but in fact is extremely important for mood, stomach acid, blood vessels, and muscle functions (10). The problem with histamine is for some people they can be suffering from histamine intolerance. This means they produce excess histamine and/or have a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks it down. When it comes to our gut, some of our microbes are capable of producing histamine. These microbes produce an enzyme, which converts histidine into histamine. The more of these microbes you have, and the more histidine you consume, the higher the amount of histamine you can produce. Histamine can be then be absorbed and taken around the body, exacerbating allergic symptoms (11).

Balance Immune System

How to improve your allergy symptoms

1. Heal your gut. Gut health and healing isn't straight forward and may require a professional to guide you. There may be other gut issues at play, like Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO) driving gut inflammation and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which will also need to be addressed.

2. Balancing gut flora can balance your immune system. This means probiotics from capsules or fermented foods. Be careful with fermented foods if you are histamine sensitive though, as they are a source of histamine. If you feel worse on bone broths or foods like sauerkraut then get in touch with a trained professional to help you refine your diet and introduce these gut healing foods slowly. Some strains that can help reduce histamine include Bifidobacteria infantis and Lactobacillus plantarum (12, 13).

3. Eat fermentable fibre. Eat a diet full of complex, fermentable fibre as it helps intestinal microbiota make short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs help regulate the immune system and decrease allergic airway inflammation (14). 

4. Try eating low-histamine diet. Following a low-histamine diet can help reduce the severity of allergy symptoms. Foods to avoids that are high in histamines include canned and ready meals, fermented foods, aged and matured foods like cheese, fish, shellfish, avocados, spinach, cocoa and leftover meat (15).

5. Eat foods high in quercetin or take a supplement. Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and can be found in foods like grapefruit, onions, apples, black tea, leafy green vegetables and beans. Some herbs like Ginkgo biloba and Sambucus spp. are also sources.

6. Zinc. Zinc is a key nutrient involved in maintaining a healthy immune system. It is also necessary in healing and maintaining a healthy gut wall. Supplementing with zinc could significantly help in the healing of leaky gut(16). To find out your zinc levels and get the safest, and get most appropriate zinc supplement, see one of our professionals. Eating foods rich in zinc can also help including grass-fed beef, oysters, lamb, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chicken, spinach and mushrooms.

7. Eat local, raw honey. Raw honey contains both beneficial bacteria and trace amounts of pollen picked up by the bees from local plants. By eating raw honey, you can 'educate' your immune system to tolerate these local pollens (16). By local we mean the neighbouring suburbs, postcode or city. Australian honey isn't considered 'local' as the plants in Perth are very different to that in Melbourne, for example. 

8. For symptom relief try clearing your nasal passage using a neti pot. If any allergens are stuck in the passage this can clear them out and give some temporary relief.