We have more than 20,000 genes in the body which hold the instructions for producing the proteins that perform every single function in the body. 
Certain genetic variations affect the nerve cells of the brain, can alter nerve growth and neural circuitry in ways that can predispose us to mental health challenges like anxiety. These genes can also affect the levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that cells use to communicate. 
Genetics research into twins has revealed that both anxiety and the traits that predispose us to anxiety, for example, are highly inheritable. 

While there does not appear to be a single gene that contributes to anxiety, there are several genes and their variants under investigation for their potential to work together, essentially increasing the or decreasing the likelihood that we will be affected by anxiety. 

SLC6A4 - One gene in particular that has shown a slightly increased link for social anxiety disorder risk is the serotonin transporter gene called SLC6A4 gene. This gene codes for the serotonin transporter (SERT) and stops serotonin activity by transporting serotonin back into the brain cells that release it.  An entire class of anti-depressant medications, known as SSRI or serotonin reuptake inhibitors work by blocking this regulation. Several conditions have been linked to SLC6A4 genes including:

Autism Spectrum Disorder
Drug Dependencies
Cardiovascular disease

Mutations of the SLC6A4 Gene have been shown to affect the rate of serotonin uptake and can contribute to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), aggressive behavior, Alzheimer's Disease patients, and those susceptible to depression or have experienced trauma. 

GLRB (Glycine Receptor Gene B)- There are four variants of this gene associated with increased risk for anxiety. Researchers believe these variants may cause the brains fear center to be over-reactive.

OXTR- Changes to the Oxytocin receptor gene involved in emotional regulation has also been linked with anxiety disorder. This gene codes for the oxytocin receptor which mediates the levels of oxytocin, commonly referred to as the love hormone. Oxytocin plays important roles in emotional bonding, social behavior, mood, stress, empathy. Oxytocin is released during childbirth and lactation to facilitate the bonding between mother and child.  It is believed that polymorphisms may influence social interactions and relationships. 

Oxytocin is one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for inhibiting the fear center in the amygdala. The more oxytocin activity we have, the better protection against stress, fear and anxiety, because it counteracts the parts of the brain that respond to stress signals. There are two main factors that determine how sensitive we are to negative moods, one is the sensitivity of the amygdala- the larger and more active the amygdala, the more easily it will be triggered into negative moods. The second factor that impacts our sensitivity to negative experience is the amount of oxytocin receptors in the brain. The more oxytocin activity, the less susceptible we will be to negative moods and emotions. 

The OXTR gene plays a role in both of these factors. The gene itself codes for oxytocin receptors which allow oxytocin to shape and control how the brain processes information. So, this gene determines how many receptors we have for oxytocin. Secondarily, because oxytocin suppresses amygdala activity, this gene also affects the sensitivity of the amygdala.

While these genes may increase our susceptibility to stress-induced mental health conditions, carrying a specific genetic mutation is not a death sentence.
We used to think, carrying a genetic mutation meant we were destined to a life of dysfunction, but through the field of epigenetics, we now recognize that it is both nature and nurture that influences the activity of the gene. While a genetic encoding may increase our propensity for a certain condition, it is ultimately lifestyle which determines how the gene will respond the environment. 

Stress management and self-care are necessary elements to ensure the cooperation of our genes, whether mutated or not. 
Self-care activities like exercise, yoga, breathwork and meditation give the body and mind some time to slow down and self-repair. 
Positive relationships, massage, a hug, cuddling up with your love on the couch, these are all things that can influence our genes respond to stress by increasing oxytocin which counters the negative effects of cortisol. 

While there are genetic tests that can help us determine our propensity for a condition, lifestyle changes are the only way we can influence what those genes are doing.

1. Diet - Everything starts in the gut, if the gut does not get the raw materials required to do all the things, then it will prioritize life over other functions. This means if we aren't giving ourselves all the necessary vitamins and minerals for the body to create all the neurochemicals and proteins that do all things our body does, we will more likely experience the negative effects of our lifestyle, regardless of what genes we carry.

2. Exercise- I talk about this a lot. Exercise is necessary to move the energy created by the stress chemicals. Think about something that causes you stress, you may be familiar with the rush of adrenaline and cortisol that causes your heartrate to beat faster and your breathing to get shallow and your pulse to quicken. Without expending that energy, it has no where to go, think of it as a corrosive chemical in the body, just waiting to be emptied out. All you have to do is expend the energy. Take a walk, dance it out, life weights, do yoga, whatever you have to do to move that corrosive energy out of the body. Remember, that cortisol is catabolic by design, meaning it breaks the body down quickly in order to get fast energy. Muscle is quickly broken down to make energy. Do your body a favor and give your mind a break with some routine movement. Think of it as routine maintenance.

3. Massage is such a relaxing way to get into your body. The gentle strokes of a massage can activate oxytocin, the love hormone that counteracts the negative effects of stress. 

If you are interested in decoding your own genetics and deciphering your own genetic risk of stress related mental health conditions or any other condition, contact me today to discuss your Precision health package. 

If you need support reaching your health goals, contact me to see how health coaching can help you. 


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