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I meet patients every day who have a good diet, but they are not getting better.  Despite their healthy diet and avoidance of many foods, they are unable to sleep better, lose weight, increase their energy and simply feel good.  This often happens because their digestive system and their brain gets shut down by low blood sugar. One major factor in optimizing genes and optimizing health is timing our meals correctly and not skipping meals. And let me tell you, skipping meals is a major, major problem in our society!

Skipping meals, esp. in people with chronic health problems, will trigger a low blood sugar stress reaction. This will alert the brain via the carotid body that blood glucose is too low. If blood sugar drops too far, this may become a life-threatening condition.  Sure, high blood sugar is a well-known problem.  But low blood sugar is even worse in the short term. We will be seriously ill if our blood sugar drops too low!

The body is hard-wired to react to low blood sugar by activating the HPA axis – the adrenal stress system. Every time we skip a meal we trigger an adrenal stress reaction. In other words, when we don’t eat we do violence to ourselves from the side effects of adrenal stress hormones and neurotransmitters.  I have already shown clearly how stress – regardless of the cause – creates a major problem for our gut health.  Hypoglycemia also makes it impossible to digest your food by shutting off stomach acid.  And yet most people don’t realize the stress they are causing to their gut and their genes by simply being “too busy” to stop and eat.

If you think about it, blood sugar stress (low blood sugar) is very likely one of the most stressful things that will ever happen to a person.  Now I realize that things like divorce, illness, job changes, new babies, etc. are very stressful life events.  But they don’t happen everyday.  They create massive stress in our lives, but luckily these events are few and far between.  The same is NOT true for a blood sugar problem.

Every single day since the moment we were conceived, our blood sugar rises and falls.  If we fail to balance our blood sugar through proper food selection and eating frequently, then we create an enormous amount of adrenal stress every day!  People who don’t eat enough or frequently truly are world-class adrenal junkies.  And this can have disastrous consequences on our health and those whom we love.

Just look at how eating frequently changes behavior and digestive patterns, esp. in young children:

Sam is a four year old who has struggled with constipation and mood problems most of his life. When his mother spoke on the phone with me she said that he gets very irritable at times throughout the day and he has trouble sleeping.  Also, his bowel habits have been very sluggish since he was two years old.  Some days he has no bowel movement at all.  Other times he has to sit on the toilet several times a day, sometimes for 30 minutes, before a bowel movement.  Now you don’t have to be a doctor to know that is abnormal, esp. for a 4 year old.

Sam’s mom also tested his genes with and gave me a copy of his SNP report she ran through  He is homozygous (+/+) for COMT and (+) for MAO, and has several other methylation-related markers.  I recognized the mood swings were caused by low blood sugar creating low dopamine in his frontal lobe.  His digestive issues were being aggravated by this as well, since a brain without fuel will do a poor job of regulating the gut.  Sam wasn’t eating frequently enough and he wasn’t digesting the food very well.  This was making him constipated and ruining his attitude.  And this needed to change.

To help prevent the drop in blood sugar throughout the day I instructed his mom to make sure he ate every 1.5 to 2 hours, avoiding sugars, grains and sweets that tend to cause reactive hypoglycemia.  I also suggested Sam take a protocol of supplements to help his digestive system and regulate his bowel – things like magnesium-citrate, vitamin C, betaine HCl, probiotics, vitamin D3, and others.  I suggested Sam follow this program for two weeks to determine how we would respond.

At our follow up phone consultation Sam’s mom was very excited.  She related to me how the protocol  “hit the nail on the head” and made improvements right away.  Sam no longer struggles to have a bowel movement and his constipation was a thing of the past.  He no longer had to sit on the toilet several times a day.  The supplements were well tolerated and he was snacking throughout the day to prevent hunger.

And the best part was that his mood was so much better in just a couple weeks.  Sam didn’t have the usual melt downs and tantrums he was accustomed to having.  Instead he was focused, playful and a good listener – all signs that his dopamine levels and adrenalin levels were being properly managed.

The key to this case is to see that Sam optimized his genes – the COMT and MAO pathways – by treating his hypoglycemia.  This in turn caused Sam to produce MORE dopamine at a steady rate throughout the day.  Mom is happy because her little angle was acting like one.  Sam was happy because he didn’t have to spend hours on the toilet.  And it only took two weeks!

When we talk about COMT and MAO genes in the brain, what we are really trying to understand is whether the person has HIGH or LOW dopamine and catecholamines.  The SNPs I look at in the COMT and MAO pathway are proven to slow the removal of dopamine and norepinephrine from the frontal lobe of the brain.  This means people with COMT and MAO SNPs are used to having higher dopamine and noradrenalin in their brain.  Just like anything in life, when you get used to having a high amount of something, it really hurts when your levels drop.

The problem with hypoglycemia is that it dramatically LOWERS the dopamine levels in the brain.  People with COMT and MAO genes are genetically inclined to have HIGHER dopamine levels in the frontal lobe – all things being equal.  Since they are programmed to work with HIGHER levels of dopamine, they are not equipped to handle a dopamine famine.  The brain’s dopamine levels drop when our blood sugar drops.  And the reason why is simple – insulin is required to make dopamine! (Ding! Ding! Ding!)

The Insuling/Blood Sugar and Dopamine Connection:

  • Tyrosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan cannot pass the blood brain barrier (BBB).  They must be transported across on what is called the Large Neutral Amino Acid transporter (LNAA).  But just like a ferry boat crossing the river, there is only a set number of parking spaces and there is competition for those spots!
  • When insulin is elevated after a meal, it makes us feel high because dopamine and serotonin levels rise.  This is due to the fact that insulin helps tyrosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan find a parking spot on the LNAA ferryboat and cross the BBB river.
  • Insulin does this by causing other amino acids to leave the blood stream, which opens up room on the LNAA transporter.  In this way insulin makes it more likely that the precursors to dopamine and serotonin get into the brain.
  • So when insulin is low we get the opposite problem.  There is NO SPACE on the LNAA for tyrosine, phenylalanine or tryptophan so the brain doesn’t get what it needs to make dopamine or serotonin.  Low insuline essentially STARVES the brain of dopamine and serotonin.
  • This makes the brain SLOW DOWN and actually is the NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF BRAIN FOG.  Without dopamine or serotonin you aren’t going to feel smart, sharp and have a good memory.  Individuals with COMT and MAO genes will see the most negative change from low dopamine.
  • All this low dopamine and serotonin will cause cravings for food and/or drugs like sugar and alcohol.  And when you see people binging on cookies, cake, dessert, chocolate, wine, etc. all you are really seeing is a brain reacting to low dopamine.  The body is simply craving the FASTEST method of raising insulin and raising dopamine – and junk food works well for that!

Keeping dopamine and adrenalin levels in a normal range requires prudent dietary habits. If we skip meals, our dopamine drops, cravings go up, anger goes up. To keep us alive our body secretes high amounts of adrenalin as our blood sugar drops. This excess adrenalin helps raise blood sugar rapidly, giving the brain what it needs to maintain homeostasis.  While this adrenalin is helpful in raising blood sugar, there are negative side effects of these powerful, mind-altering stress neurotransmitters.

High dopamine and adrenalin levels from low blood sugar will make your life difficult at best and miserable at worst. Shaky, anxious, unable to focus, rapid heart beat, sweating, poor digestion, and more are some of the side effects of low blood sugar. So before treating genes, make sure you are treating the person. And treating the person means making sure that the right food is eaten, that the food is digested properly, and that the meals are frequent through the day. Skipping meals should be avoided at all costs in our modern, high stress society.

Looking at SNPs can be useful in treating chronic disease. There is no doubt about that. But SNPs can only be successfully treated by making sure that metabolic and neurologic health is supported as well.  Meaning supplements can never fix a bad diet and bad habits.

So please, do yourself a favor! Make sure you eat frequently and support your digestion by using proven protocols that optimize your blood sugar and optimize your genes.

In Health,

Dr. Rostenberg

By studying the current peer-reviewed research, Dr. Rostenberg has discovered powerful, natural strategies to optimize brain function and heal your body.  He can help you uncover the genetic or root causes of your health problem and find a natural solution!  If you would like help with your blood sugar and digestion to improve your methylation and reduce/eliminate your symptoms, please contact Dr. Rostenberg at Red Mountain Natural Medicine today. Phone 208-322-7755. Email Website