Research this concept by attending our BeyondMTHFR© coaching program, built for functional medicine practitioners, naturopaths, chiropractors, and nutritionists.

Have you ever considered that gut bacteria can influence your genes?  That thought might sound strange, but that is exactly what the latest research is showing us.  It is becoming ever more apparent that who and what lives in our gut has a huge influence on our methylation cycle.  The compounds that come from the microorganisms in the gut are known to influence our brain chemistry, hormones, blood sugar, sleep cycle, and much more.  Far from being a quiet neighbor in our gut, the gut microbes have a huge impact on the function and expression of our genes.  You’ll see below that there are three nasty gut-toxins in particular that can really damage the methylation cycle. In a recent post I outlined how our genetic SNPs in the COMT and MAO pathway lead to increased levels of adrenalin, which in turn leads to increases in pain and anxiety.  Anxiety is something we have all felt; but many people are living trapped in a world where they cannot find peace because of constant worry, panic and pain.  And while those genetic variations we carry certainly do influence our perception of pain and our feelings of anxiety, there is another part of the story that needs to be mentioned – the gut origin of anxiety and methylation problems. Again it might not make sense at first glance that gut bacteria can influence our methylation cycle.  But as I pointed out in a post titled MTHFR and the Stress-Gut Connection, we know that gut bacteria also have a methylation cycle.  In other words, that which helps optimize our methylation cycle so we can grow and repair also helps microbes grow and repair. When we take methylation vitamins it is like dumping fertilizer into our gut.  We expect that the fertilizer, the B-vitamins, goes into our bodies but the gut bacteria will eat it first.  When bacteria and yeasts eat our fertilizer first, they grow stronger while we become progressively malnourished.  This is a main reason why people who take vitamins and eat healthy foods still have their symptoms flaring up or aren’t getting better.  It means something in the gut is eating all that fertilizer and making them sick.  A perfect example of this problem can be found by looking at how SIBO impacts our methylation cycle:

  • SIBO causes iron-deficient anemia, low protein and malnutrition in general
  • SIBO makes it hard to gain weight, and slows the growth of children
  • SIBO increases blood folic acid and folate levels, interfering with MTHFR pathways
  • SIBO decreases absorption of B12 and fatty vitamins like A, D, E and K leading to poor methylation and chronic disease

Now obviously SIBO is a more severe form of this problem, but it does illustrate the point.  When the gut is imbalanced and overgrowth with bacteria and yeast, we simply cannot optimize our health or our genes. I don’t want you to get the idea that gut microbes and bacteria can only harm us.  The truth is that without the proper bacteria in our gut we cannot survive.  We absolutely depend on those organism to provide our bodies with nutrients to create health.  So while the microbes and bacteria we are going to discuss are necessary for health, anything that is good can become toxic if it begins to get out of balance.  And this gut imbalance is the driving force behind so many symptoms that make people with methylation issues chronically sick. Remember that the gut consists of a tube that is 26 feet long and about as large as half a tennis court!  Considering we have over 22,000 genes and we have 10 times as many bacteria as we have individual cells, its no surprise that the gut bugs can influence our own cells.  The thing to keep in mind when looking at the gut-methylation connection is that not all genes are created equal.  In other words, some genes are very sensitive to what happens in the gut while others are not.

Methylation genes which are very sensitive to gut problems:

  • COMT – Catechol-o-methyltransferase
  • MAO – Monoamine Oxidase
  • MTR – Methionine Synthase
  • SULT – Phenol Sulfotransferase

As you will see these genes take it on the chin when the gut has gone awry.

Typical Variant Report Showing COMT, MAO, MTR, and SULT SNPs:

MAO and COMT Variants

MTR and SULT Variants

* NOTE: for the genes shown above red or yellow means they are slowed down.

** NOTE: only one SNP needs to be present to impact these genes, although often there are multiple DNA SNPs for a given gene in a single individual.

Not only do gut bacteria product vitamins that we need, they also produce toxins that disturb our methylation cycle and lead to things like anxiety, tension, insomnia, pain, fatigue, and brain fog.  Taking methylation support vitamins can save your life, and we have a long list of patients who have benefited enormously from the right blend of methyl nutrients.  However if your gut is dumping toxins into your body when you take vitamins then it will slow your progress considerably. There are three very important methylation-destroying gut toxins which can increase anxiety, pain, insomnia, brain fog, headaches, and more – phenols, aromatic amino acids, and aldehydes.  That fact alone should make everyone take extra care of their gut.  But when we consider how the bacterial environment in the gut influences our methylation cycle, we can see that gut infections can halt progress in someone who is trying to fix their methylation problems.  Just look at all the different ways bacterial byproducts can impact our methylation cycle:

The Big Three Microbial Byproducts that Impair Methylation:

1) Phenol compounds

Phenols come from plants and bacteria.  Some phenols like resveratrol and green tea catechins are have enormous health benefits.  But because of their similar shape, these and other phenol compounds compete with estrogen and adrenalin/dopamine for metabolism through the COMT pathway; therefore if the imbalanced gut is causing more phenols to leak into the body, it will slow the clearance of estrogen and stress hormones.  This increase of adrenalin/noradrenalin will more pressure on the COMT and MAO systems, two pathways that are genetically slowed in many people.

So if the gut is producing a lot of phenols (during SIBO or other gut infections) then the body cannot detox stress hormones and estrogens very well.  The reasons is that the phenols sit in the same parking space in the COMT enzyme as does adrenalin, dopamine, and estrogen. High phenol levels from the gut can lead to pain, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, low thyroid, fibroids, endometriosis, weight gain and more just by interferring with the COMT pathway and putting excess pressure on the MAO system.  But that is not all that gut-derived phenols can do.

Phenols are also metabolized through the sulfation pathway and they can lower sulfate levels.  The SULT1A1 and SULT1A2 genes are responsible for taking a toxin, neurotransmitter, bile acid or hormone and gluing it to a molecule of sulfate.  This is the sulftate transfer that is so important to Phase II detox.  All phenols whether they come from the gut or the diet are processed through the SULT pathway.  When phenols are metabolized this way they remove sulfate from the body.  And sulfate is often lacking in people with imbalanced methylation and chronic disease.

Individuals with SULT SNPs have a SLOWED sulfation pathway already, and when phenols from the gut enter the body in high amounts it slow down their phase II sulfation even more.  In this way lots of phenol production from the gut bacteria can greatly impair your detox system increasing sensitivity to smells, foods, chemicals and more.  The phenol connection to methylation is the idea behind the Feingold Diet for the treatment of Autism and other neurological and developmental issues.

2) Aromatic Amino Acids

Aromatic amino acids which are produced by gut bacteria are necessary for proper brain and nervous system function.  You’ve likely heard of the aromatic amino acids – they are tyrosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan.  These are the protein precursors of our dopamine, adrenalin, noradrenalin, serotonin and melatonin neurotransmitters.  These chemical messengers regulate sleep, attention, thinking, and multitudes of other critical processes.  Too much or too little of these amino acids can have a large impact on our brain and our methylation cycle.

While we can get these aromatic amino acids in our diet when we eat protein, the gut microbes also produce these key biomolecules.  Yes, bacteria in the gut produce the amino acids we use to make our neurotransmitters and this is why the gut is often called the “second brain”.  The bacteria use something called the Shikamate pathway to produce tyrosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan – molecules that can heavily influence our nervous system through neurotransmitter production.

If there is an overgrowth of bacteria such as with SIBO and other gut infections then we can predict there will be an excess of adrenalin, dopamine, and serotonin.  The more bacteria we harbor in our bodies, the more aromatic amino acids will be produced.  If we have too much tyrosine/phenylalanine we can end up with too much adrenalin and dopamine.    And so excess gut bacteria can lead to symptoms of overmethylation by way of too much tyrosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan.

However, when we eat GMO foods grown with Round-Up, we can also have our gut become sick and infected.  We now know that the active ingredient glyphosate destroys the Shikamate pathway in bacteria.  Without this pathway working, the good bacteria in our bodies will die off and more aggressive forms will take their place.  An MIT researcher with 170 published papers under her belt has shown the connection between glyphosate and autismHer theory is that as healthy gut bacteria are destroyed by Round-Up, our detoxification system goes awry and our nervous system can malfunction.  You don’t need me to tell you that everyone should avoid GMO foods and eat organic as much as possible.

3) Aldehydes and Alcohol

Yeasts such as Candida produce these are toxic molecules which are similar in shape and function to formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing toxin used in thousands of products.  Aside from DNA damage, aldehydes are known to inhibit the methionine synthase enzyme MTR which is required for the recycling of homocysteine and the production of SAMe.  Another issue with aldehydes is that they are broken down by the exact same enzymes that also break down our neurotransmitters.  And if you have two molecules competing for the same parking space (the same enzyme) then you are going to slow down the breakdown of those molecules, causing symptoms and upsetting the methylation pathways.

When the body has a problem with yeast and aldehydes, it also has a problem with alcohol.  We know that yeasts such as Candida produce alcohol.  And we know that alcohol causes loss of zinc, magnesium and b-vitamins – a common pattern we see with people who have a gut infection.  But the damage doesn’t end there.  The ethanol (alcohol) that Candida produces gets turned into aldehydes inside the body, which can break DNA strands and lead to cancer and cell destruction.

So after the alcohol depletes you of zinc, magnesium, folate, niacin and other b-vitamins, it gets turned into an aldehyde which damage cells and blocks the breakdown of dopamine, serotonin, adrenalin and histamine.  Because aldehydes, histamine, dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin each get metabolized through the aldehyde detox pathway, excess aldehydes causes increased levels of stress hormone and neurotransmitters.  This is a recipe for anxiety, pain, insomnia and more.

As I have shown, gut byproducts that increase the levels of stress hormones – phenols, aromatic amino acids, and aldehydes – will tend to cause anxiety and many other symptoms of overmethylation.  When these stress hormones rise inside the body, people with COMT and MAO SNPs will experience side effects of these powerful hormones.  Since we cannot change our genes, we must change our environment to take the pressure off those genes.  This strategy has been the most promising in treating methylation issues which don’t respond well to b-vitamin therapy. Clearly the issue with gut health and methylation is a complex one, and it can have a huge impact on our health.  It is a fact that our gut microbiom provides us with important nutrients that we otherwise wouldn’t get in our diet.  Yet it is also true that an excess of or the wrong kind of yeast and bacteria can upset our methylation cycle and make us sick.  There is a reason that seasoned practitioners look first at the gut to make sure that is working properly.  If we are getting too many phenols, amino acids, and aldehydes from our gut into our body, you will not be able to optimize methylation by using supplements.  In cases like these you must heal and balance the gut first. Healing the gut is simple, but it takes hard work.  It requires effort, focus, discipline and of course the right advice, supplements and diet.  But it doesn’t have to take a long time.  I have a program that can dramatically change the gut in as little as 10 days.  After helping people all over the country and the world improve their digestion, I can save you time and help you get better results.  If you would like my help in your quest for optimum health and methylation then contact me today! Yours In Health, Dr. Rostenberg By studying the current peer-reviewed research, Dr. Rostenberg has discovered powerful, natural strategies to restore your gut 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 gut function 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