Ep. 144: How Much Attention Should We Give Our Genetics? with Dr. Ben Lynch
I’ve brought Dr. Ben Lynch back to ask him more detailed questions about what’s going on in functional medicine, using people’s personal genomic information.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Listen to Episode 70
Get the book Dirty Genes
EPISODES HIGHLIGHTS WITH DR. BEN LYNCH:
- [08:23] My genes are confusing! Genetic testing can be a great tool to optimize your lifestyle, but it’s usually being used incorrectly because the results are hard to understand, or even frightening.
- [12:47] You have more tools than genetic tests. Your genes are not the only thing determining your fate. What’s your lifestyle like? Do you really need radical treatment based on your results?
- [19:13] Let’s talk Alzheimer’s and APOE. APOE is a gene implicated in the early onset of Alzheimer’s. But if your test shows up positive for this, you actually have more power to make safer life decisions and put the power of your genes in your hands.
- [29:44] Your genes are not a scapegoat. A lot of people are using genetic testing to find a reason why they’re sick. But most often, your genes are not to blame and it’s pointing you down the wrong road. Have you checked your lifestyle fundamentals recently?
- [30:53] What are the doctors doing about this? Most practitioners look at genetic reports and prescribe supplements based on that. But if you’re not “working” that genetic variant very hard, you may not need the supplement, despite what your report says.
- [38:35] Who really benefits from all these supplements? Supplement companies are utilizing genetics to promote the sale of supplements. And they seem like the easy answer. But the easy answer is rarely the best one for our bodies and minds.
- [42:43] Should I get my gene report or not? The answer depends on who you are. Can you talk to an expert, and spend time getting to know your results? If you’re anxious, it might not be in your best interest. Do what fits you best.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Robyn: Hey there, my friend. Welcome back to the Vibe show. It’s Robyn Openshaw.
It’s the middle of summer here in Park City, and guess what I’m doing? I’m moving again.
I just moved up here a year ago and I am moving again mostly because I thought it’d be really fun and kind of urban to live in a condo. Turns out, I don’t like living in a condo. I don’t like having my master bedroom on the top floor and my office in the basement, in the cold winter. I did not love working in a basement office.
I got myself a rambler where the office, master bedroom, and kitchen are all on the main floor. It has a beautiful view overlooking the golf course. I was really excited to have the move over with, but here we are, about to move again.
I wanted to express appreciation for you if you’ve been following my show for the last few years, or you’re brand new to it and you’re just binging on episodes, which we hear a lot.
I want to express to you how much I appreciate you for following my work, for supporting it. One of the very best ways you can support the show is to rate, review, and subscribe; I wanted to read a couple of reviews that meant a lot to me.
lm4680 said, “Robyn is who I go to for figuring out life’s complexities. Her insights, perspectives and intelligence have been super helpful, especially when dealing with difficult situations (like young adult children). The knowledge she shares on health I can learn and have from many resources about how to be a good mom (because I really didn’t have a healthy role model) is so invaluable to me. Love the raw, honest vulnerability she brings to her show.”
Thank you so much, lm4681.
One more from Halosniper who says, “Robyn, your podcast is helping me get through a very challenging time. I’ve studied vibration for years, but I love the way you take bite-sized topics and take it deeper and relate it to raising our vibration. This is one of the most uplifting programs and I love listening.”
Halosniper, thank you for that. It reminds me, as I read your story, that it helps me so much when you make a comment about the show because then it makes this show very, very real and personal.
When I was on a speaking tour — and I’m sure that you may be aware that I did a 450-city speaking tour for six years — I went out twice a month and I went to on average about four cities in a row. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night in a different city in the same area or state. People would stay after and talk to me and I would pretty much, for 90 minutes, have people stand line and I would sign their books and I would talk to them and they would tell me their personal stories.
I came to, eventually, go into every single talk that I did feeling very, very humbled. I would go in a room (I might go in a bathroom stall if that’s all I could find or a closet or whatever) and I would pray and meditate for a few minutes, and imagine people on the front row, maybe faces that I had met at the night before his class.
I would ask for the courage and the strength and especially the insight to be able to say what was meaningful to the people who drove across town to honor me with their presence. So even though I can’t see you when I’m podcasting, I want you to know that I’m thinking of you and I know that you’re trying to get through a very challenging time.
I feel it. I absolutely feel it.
That’s what this show is for, is for people who are trying to get to a better place. There’s lots of struggles in life and I’m just grateful if I get to be here for you for any part of that. So, love, love, love when you give me a rate review and subscribe, it gives me great feedback and it tells me that my work is making a difference in your life. Hopefully it’s making a difference in the way that you engage with your family and other people you love too.
Our goal here is really to create that ripple effect, that we are not an island, we are interconnected with all other living beings. And I’m talking about that being the people, and the animals, and the whole of the world that we are so very connected with.
One of the mind-blowing principles of quantum physics is that you’re actually sharing electrons with people who might be thousands of miles from you. That has been discovered in the burgeoning field of quantum physics. It just blows my mind and it makes me realize how very, very connected we all are. And we connect over the interwebs, don’t we?
I’m bringing you Dr. Ben Lynch again today. He was in episode 70. I interviewed him when his book Dirty Genes came out. It was brand new and I was very excited to learn more about genetic testing. What are some of the ramifications of it? What should people know?
Today I have more questions for him because I’m hearing the buzz about this, the chatter about this, on the GreenSmoothieGirl Facebook page and some of our private pages.
So many of our followers are saying, “I got the ancestry test or one of the other genetic tests and I learned this and this about myself.” And both Dr Ben Lynch and I agree on this, that they’re taking it too far and they’re ascribing too much meaning to that.
In today’s episode, we’re going to try to make sense of what genetic testing is useful for and when we’re just using it to fuel our existing anxieties. We have plenty of anxiety and plenty of information in this world.
Genetic Testing and Dr. Ben Lynch
Let’s get a little bit more grounded in how we view our genetics with Dr. Ben Lynch.
So, Dr Ben Lynch, I’m so pleased to have you back to talk a little bit in more depth about things that our audience asks us and things they seem to be interested in when it comes to genetic tests. And then once you have your genetic tests what to do with it, and what functional medicine practitioners are guiding people with after they get their genetic tests.
First of all, how did your book launch of Dirty Genes go? How’s it being received out there?
Dr. Lynch: Awesome, Robyn.
First of all, thanks for having me here. Folks, I’m here to answer your questions and I hope I’m going to do a good job for you. We’re going to get to that.
The Dirty Genes book launch went really well, better than I anticipated, and it continues to be a bestseller on Amazon, which is really cool.
I’ve learned with the whole book thing that us authors are really keen on trying to get the New York Times bestsellers and all that stuff. And at the end of the day, none of that really matters. What matters is the book getting in the hands of the individual.
When I see that Dirty Genes is what I call a perennial best seller, that excites me way more than just getting a label of a bestselling book from New York Times. I want the reader to be excited and be able to utilize the book in their life. And since the book is a perennial bestseller that’s telling me that people are reading it, getting a lot of good actionable information, applying to their life and it’s working, and then they’re telling others about it. That’s what excites me the most.
Robyn: Yeah, me too. And I get sent books every single day. I have more books than I can even put in my bookshelves. I have whole rooms of my house that are lined with bookshelves. I’m sitting in one right now. The entire wall is covered with bookshelves.
I can’t read them all and a lot of people are sending them to me, wanting me to endorse them or whatever, but with yours, I actually purchased it and read it before I interviewed you the first time on episode 70, which would be a great place to start or to go back to after you hear this. And if you’re curious about genetic tests and what’s going to happen with all this.
Let’s talk about what you are seeing because you keep an ear to the ground better than the rest of us about all the burgeoning or explosive political issues due to 23andMe being so popular. Lots of people are just getting it out of curiosity to find out where their great, great, great grandparents are from, what their ancestry is, but then they’re learning things about their genetics that they’re a little bit scared to find out what that has to do with their disease risk and whether their detoxification pathways and things like that.
What are the big issues that you see people really interested in, and what are some of your concerns or interests relative to that?
Dr. Lynch: It’s concerning to me. I’ll just say that I love genetic testing. I love the fact that it’s available direct to consumer. I love the fact that doctors and health professionals of all types are interested in and utilizing genetics to help optimize the lives of their patients and their clients. I think that genetic testing is going to be a phenomenal tool and it already is for the select few.
The problem is, the majority of genetic testing application in clinics or in the consumer’s home is met with frustration, confusion and actually a worsening of problems. It’s because they’re utilizing it incorrectly. Or even worse, the genetic testing company is giving them information that is making them make quick decisions and it’s about the whole picture.
Let’s talk about a couple of negatives. First of all, I don’t want to be Bad News Ben here, but I want to go in straight out of the gate letting you know that I’m not happy with the fact that 23andMe is reporting the BRCA gene. I think that is a disservice to the public. I think it’s a disservice the way that they’re doing it. I’m glad the FDA made them change how they’re doing it. I think if they are reporting, as they are, the BRCA Gene, 23andMe is doing a good job in terms of informing the individual that it’s not enough information. But if it’s not enough information, then why are you reporting it?
The BRCA gene is a gene that is very well known for, if you have the BRCA gene that you have an increased susceptibility to breast cancer.
And 23andMe is very clear in asking you if you want to see that you have this BRCA gene or not, the gene mutation. They ask your permission, which is great. And then if you say yes, they give you some quick instructional videos of what it means and what it may mean, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to have breast cancer. They also tell you that they’re only giving you two breast cancer genetic variants out of the 70 plus that are known to increase the susceptibility to breast cancer.
If they’re reporting two out of seventy that are known to increase breast cancer risk, then what if you don’t have the two that they’re reporting, but you have four others that they’re not reporting? And let’s say you have two that they’re reporting but you don’t have the others. You don’t have the other genes like MTHFR or COMT or other detoxification genes that also may increase or decrease your risk. It’s a very narrow picture.
Genetic testing… A lot of people are looking at genes in isolation like the BRCA gene for breast cancer risks, but they’re not looking at the whole picture. They’re not looking at their lifestyle, their dietary environment, their mindset, their history, or 50 other genes that may increase risk for breast cancer or decrease risk for breast cancer. They just quickly look to see if they have these breast cancer genetic variants based upon 23andMe reporting, and if they do have them, a number of individuals get a radical mastectomy and think that’s the solution. I think that is a huge, huge disservice.
In short, I think genetic testing is powerful, but you have to be careful that it’s a very limited and narrow scope.
[Genetic testing] is basically a certain type of drill bit in your garage out of a myriad of drill beds and a myriad of other tools. And I equate genetic testing to, if you’re going to build a home, it’s similar to what furniture you’re going to put in your home. It has nothing to do with where you’re going to build the home, what the foundation of your home is, what roofing you’re going to use. What the weather is like in your home, in your environment. Is it a sunny environment? Is a wet environment, is it snowy? Yet people are just concerned about this furniture.
Robyn: I’m going to see if I understand what your concern is; I’m going to boil it down and see if I’m right here.
You’re saying that 23andMe gives you, if you want it, whether you have any of these BRCA genes. And there’s over 70 of them, but only two of them — I think that’s BRCA I and BRCA II — and you can correct me if I’m wrong, are correlated to high cancer of the breast and the ovaries.
You’re concerned that people are told they have a BRCA variant of some kind and lots of women will assume, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to get breast cancer. Let’s get a radical mastectomy.” Is that the basics of your concern?
Dr. Lynch: Yes. They think that the radical mastectomy is the solution. And they go to doctors, and there’s actually surgeons that will do BRCA testing and the surgeons will utilize the genetic testing to influence their patients to get a radical mastectomy, or mastectomies, or hysterectomy, or ovariectomy.
You have to understand that, is there a conflict of interest? Is there bias? 23andMe is informing you that they’re reporting a couple out of a lot of others, but I still think in the heat of the moment the person is not going to remember the minutiae that 23andMe is only reporting a couple out of a lot of them, and they’re also not understanding that their lifestyle and their diet and their environment is a major issue, a contributor to that, even though 23andMe is clear about that.
I still think in the heat of the moment, at the end of the day, the consumer is looking at that report and if somebody tells you that you have genes that increase susceptibility to breast cancer and they’re both red, that’s terrifying, and you’re going to forget everything else that you just read or watched.
I think you have to be very careful. And I do urge people to not even look at that, unless you are with a well-versed health professional to help guide you through it and they are looking at other genes.
Robyn: So maybe don’t find out about the BRCA I snips, unless you have a mother and a grandmother who had ovarian and breast cancer so you feel like you should know.
By the way, I’m going to say a little aside here, I said this when I did the podcast with I think it was James Maskell, and maybe even when I interviewed you in episode 70 the first time, “Hey, it’s only 63% of women who get breast cancer or ovarian cancer who have the BRCA I and II genes.”
Maybe have different statistics and feel free to share them if not, but that’s the research that I’ve read. And now you might be saying, “Only 63%. That’s terrible, Robyn.” Yes, but I think it’s one in six of the general population who, if you live long enough, you’re going to get breast cancer. It might even be higher than that.
It definitely increases your risk of breast cancer. But women should know that just because they have a BRCA, a genetic variant, does not mean they’re going to get breast cancer or ovarian cancer. And as we’ve said in at great length, both you and I, on my show and especially on my interview with you, what you’re choosing to do in your life can bring that way down.
If you’re eating a mostly plant based diet, you’re choosing organics, you’re oxygenating, getting exercise, you’re choosing to manage your stress well, you don’t smoke, you don’t drink to excess. You don’t have a 63% chance of getting breast cancer, am I right?
Dr. Lynch: Yeah, 100%. Right. Let’s say you want to find out if you have BRCA I and II and you checked those boxes and you go through those videos 23andMe shows you and you don’t have them; but instead you have a slower CMT, you have a faster cytochrome P450. You have a slower glutathione gene. Um, you’re not. You have arsenic metabolism genes and you have MTHFR. These genes all increase susceptibility of breast cancer. 23andMe doesn’t report any of that type of information.
It’s really, really important that you understand that genes don’t act in isolation. They act as a system; they act as a team. In soccer you watch highlights and you always see the striker scoring the goal and everybody celebrates. But the ball didn’t get to the striker by himself most of the time, or by herself. It’s a team sport, and genetics are a team. They’re also played on different fields and different environments and that also influences the game. You have to understand that chains work together, it’s a team sport and you’re the coach.
Robyn: You have a lot of very good metaphors. You also might have people who don’t know how to interpret their genetic profile, which is really all of us, who might also go, “Oh, good. I don’t have either one of those BRCA genes. I’m good. I’m not going to get breast cancer.” Which would also be a gross oversimplification for the reasons that you said.
I like to put a fine point on it and make the sort of superficial point that I have just noticed in so many conversations with our followers over the years. They really are confused about the very basics of this.
I got a genetic test, not 23andMe, but when I was in Europe (because my readers know that I go to this Swiss clinic of biological medicine every summer and spend a few weeks there, it’s really the only doctor I have) she likes to run a bunch of tests on me and tell me how I’m doing. She only going to see me usually once a year and I didn’t even know she was doing it.
She did a genetic test on me and, and it was pages and pages and pages and dozens of things that they tested for. And I think they were doing it because of APOE. I think I’ll have you address that. She just wanted to tell me what she felt my genetics say about a propensity for dementia, Alzheimer’s, I do have a grandfather who was deep in dementia when he died, but he was in his nineties and he had been a chain-smoking alcoholic. To me it’s not necessarily predictive of my risk.
Anyway, there were dozens of them just under the category of detoxification. And some of them were like, “Oh, this is not good for you. This shows that you have some struggles with detoxification.” But then there are others that are like, “Oh, you at least you don’t have this. That would be bad.” And I had no idea what to make of it because there was no clear picture.
Do you want to address that and then talk about the hype over the APOE different alleles or whatever you call them?
Dr. Lynch: Yeah, for sure. And let’s start with the APOE. It was your grandfather who lived into his 90.
Robyn: Yes. But died after five years of total dementia in a home.
Dr. Lynch: Like you said, the alcohol and the smoking didn’t help him very much; they talk about dirtying your genes, that’ll do it. But apparently, he still had some pretty darn good genes elsewhere in his body, and he probably lived in a cleaner environment or did something he loved and surrounded himself with good people and probably ate well to offset a bit of the smoking and alcohol.
Robyn: I should cut in to say that I think the story of my grandfather is actually really exciting. My grandmother killed herself when she was 33 so he was dealing with the mother of his children disappearing when he has three little kids. He got married four more times and spiraled into alcoholism. And like I said, smoking more than a pack a day. And then his last wife — who he was married to for some 45 years when he died, the wife that he was very compatible with — they quit together in their 50s.
I do want to say that. It speaks to cleaning up your genes. When you’re in your mid-fifties and you have drunk yourself to sleep every night, you’re sloppy drunk every night for years and years and years, like my grandfather, and it costs you multiple marriages. Plus, the smoking. He lived to be in his nineties, he did quit.
Let’s just say that you can always turn it around. There’s always that chance to stop doing the bad things that we’re doing that dirty up our genes.
Anyways, back to that, you were setting something up. Go ahead.
Dr. Lynch: That’s important that people hear that.
For the APOE gene, as Robyn has stated, there’s a lot of information online and research that talk about, if you have this genetic variant, that you have an increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s earlier. It’s called early onset basically. You start getting Alzheimer’s symptoms possibly in your late fifties, early sixties, versus eighties, nineties.
I ran the APOE, ran 23andMe, and 23andMe reports if you have APOE or not, and if you want to look into that. So, I did. And I found out that I have increased risk of Alzheimer’s; not the most severe, but pretty significant. I look at my grandmother; she had Alzheimer’s, but she was a significant smoker and smoked all the way until her death.
She did get [Alzheimer’s] early. But she actually died of lung cancer. That’s what got her. But her dementia was very early. I think in her early sixties she was already having issues, maybe even her late fifties. I look at my lifestyle and I’m very careful about what I do.
Then I ran it on my kids and one of my sons has a very significant risk of Alzheimer’s. He’s got the APOE 44. When I found that out, my gut just dropped. And I was really scared and really nervous and upset. And it felt like a failure as a parent that my wife passed on an APOE 4 allele to him, and so did I. Why couldn’t he have the APOE 33 like my other ones did? Why did he have to get the APOE 44 for increased risk, and so on.
But then I realized, okay, wait a minute; a few years later I said, “this is actually good information to have,” because now that I know that one of my sons has the APOE 44, and I need to be more proactive and I need to teach him to be more proactive. If he ever gets hit in the head, or he needs to really be more mindful of what food he puts in his mouth. He cannot play sports where he can get concussions. It’s just not an option. He is really good at football. He played flag football until just last year and he wanted to play tackle and I was like, “No bud, sorry, you can’t do that.” Now he plays soccer and I tell him he can’t head the ball. I’m not going to let him do that. So, he won’t do it.
I’ve already informed him, even at an age of 11 years old, that he has this increased risk. And he is confused about it. He is scared about it. But I do it in a way that is informative and empowering to him. I tell him why he needs to be careful of the sugar and go to sleep.
Because sleep is — if you read other books about Alzheimer’s, The End of Alzheimer’s and then there’s another one, The Alzheimer Antidote, I think it’s called, and I forget her name, but she talks about how important sleep is — sleep is the time where your brain actually cleans itself. And sleep is extremely important for the brain.
If you have difficulty, if you have genetics that decrease your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, then your risk for Alzheimer’s can increase even if you don’t have Alzheimer’s because sleep is that important. If you’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling at night, and you’re a true night owl, and you don’t have the Alzheimer’s gene, you’re increasing your risk for Alzheimer’s compared to the person who has the Alzheimer’s gene and is going to bed on time and getting good solid sleep measured by their Oura Ring.
Robyn: If you don’t have enough reasons to go to bed on time, maybe that one will motivate you. It’s so important. It’s so simple. You’ve heard it a million times. But to me — and I’ve taught lots of classes on sleep — to me the easiest thing is make sure you go to bed a little bit earlier; be in bed by 11:00 PM. And if you say, “No I can’t, I’m a night owl,” Oh well, train yourself earlier.
Earlier sleep is worth more than later sleep. And don’t drink alcohol within two hours of going to bed and drink some water if you do, things like that. Just get more sleep. So important. Going to bed late or having sporadic times when you go to bed instead of a regular time is bad for your dementia risk. That’s a really great point.
Dr. Lynch: Just to hit that real quick, you already feel it. You might not have dementia, but if you go to bed late or your schedule is sporadic or you don’t sleep well, the next day your brain isn’t working so well. You know that, you need more coffee, you need more things to get you focused, you’re more irritable, you’re more grumpy, your schedule or your productivity is erratic. It’s not dementia, but your brain is already altered in terms of function.
Know that if you continue doing that, that coffee isn’t going to do the trick. That donut’s not going to give you the clarity that you need or that you’re looking for, and it’s definitely not the right way to go about it, but your brain is already impacted.
Your sleep is causing dirty genes and then Alzheimer’s is the ultimate of dirty genes in the brain, right? It’s the degree in which a simple thing [impacts greatly]. Maybe you’ve had a party and you got hung over and then you went to bed; if you do that periodically, no worries, great. Have fun. But if it’s a recurring trend, your day-to-day performance is going to go down. And while it’s not Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s impacting your brain.
Robyn: When I go to my Swiss retreats (I get to spend a lot of time with maybe fifty to a hundred people every year) I’m always amazed, because I live in Utah where very few people drink alcohol. I’m just around the dominant religion here that doesn’t drink alcohol at all. And I was raised in that.
I’m so amazed at how many people tell me they drink between one to two glasses of wine or an entire bottle of wine every night. And it’s not something I talk about a lot on the show because not on my mind that much, but it’s such a risk factor. I’m way more worried about how much people drink than I am whether they have this genetic allele or that one.
Genetic Testing and Lifestyle
Dr. Lynch: Exactly, which is why I started this saying that genetic testing is fantastic, but it’s just one tool in the tool shed where the basics of going to bed and not drinking a whole bottle of wine every night is more important. And you all know that it’s not rocket science, but you want to get genetic testing because you want to see your susceptibilities (which I totally understand and appreciate) but at the end of the day, looking at your genetics is not the antidote to putting in the work and doing the basics.
Looking at your genetics is showing your increased susceptibilities to certain things and you might have to be more proactive in certain areas of your life. Maybe you can’t tolerate red wine or eating cheese and wine tasting your whole life (well, not your whole life, your adult drinking life) and you’ve never been able to do that. Once you find out that you have histamine-related genes or your histamine pathways are dirty and you’re like, “Oh wow, that really explains a lot of things.” That’s awesome.
But the basics and fundamentals are so, so important and a lot of people are using genetic testing to try to find a reason why they’re sick. And most often [your genes] are not the case, and it’s pointing you down the wrong road.
Life is about making choices and if you’re using genetic tests to make a choice versus looking at your lifestyle to make the next choice to improve your health, I would say nine times out of ten you’re going to be on the wrong turf.
Robyn: Very well put. What do you see out there that functional medicine doctors are doing with genetic testing?
You get a test, the results come in and they counsel you, and they tell you to do what that you are concerned about?
Dr. Lynch: They’re telling you to take these supplements or to take these drugs or do this. And they look at the next gene and they tell you to take a different supplement or to take this medication based upon the next gene. And they look in another gene and they say, “Okay, well we got this supplement for this gene,” and by the end of the report you’ve got 15 different supplements to “fix” those 30 different genetic variations that they found on your report.
They tell you, “Look, you don’t have to take these every day, but you’re genetically susceptible to not having enough folate so I want you to take this type of folate, probably every day, this one you’ve got detoxification issues, so you need to take this probably every day, and then you might have difficulty falling asleep so we’re giving you this supplement for sleep, don’t take this one every day, but you might need it,” and so on.
“Here’s your vitamin D genes and you need to take more vitamin D than you are now. And you take this every day, take 20,000 units every day, you’ve managed it so far. You’ve got that and you’ve got this more significant one. You’re homozygous for 6-7-7 and that means your MTHFR gene is slowed down by about 80%. Based upon that information, I want you taking seven milligrams of methylfolate every day.”
“I had a patient yesterday,” this is a doctor speaking, not me, “who had a less intense MTHFR. She had only one 6-7-7. I only told her to take two milligrams of methylfolate every day.” They’re basically prescribing supplements based upon the findings of the genetic report without even asking your history, really, without looking at lab laboratory testing, without looking at your diet thoroughly.
All doctors, all practitioners of all types, are guilty of this, including myself when I first started looking at genetics. First [patient] I ever looked at with MTHFR back in 2011 and I told them to take methylfolate and some got better and another one had the same genetic variant and they got worse and another individual had the same genetic variant and they had no impact.
And then I quickly realized that MTHFR increases susceptibility of not making the body’s number one form of folate but if they’re eating enough leafy greens, if they’re eating liver, if they’re not drinking, if they’re not smoking, if they’re eating sufficient protein, other genes to look at, it’s not about just one gene or x, y and g gene.
Most doctors, most practitioners, are looking at genetic reports and prescribing based upon the genetic report. That is wrong. And there are many genetic reports out there that say, “if you have this genetic variant you have increased need for vitamin B2.” Wrong. That is not necessarily the case because you might already be getting sufficient B2in your life and you may not be pushing that gene very hard. You don’t need more B2.
Genes have jobs to do. And if you’re not working that gene very hard, then you don’t need to take more of that nutrient. It’s that simple.
Let me give you an example. A buddy of mine does not have the MTHFR gene, but he was drinking quite a bit of alcohol, and this is when I first got started into it, actually even before it. And he says, “Ben, I’m drinking quite a bit of beer these days and I’ve noticed that if I take some B vitamins, I can drink, and I don’t get hung over.”
I said, “Yeah, it’s because you’re processing the alcohol and the aldehydes better.” And I said, “If you add a couple other things, you’ll be able to drink and not get hung over; enjoy the buzz, but you’re not going to get hung over.”
I actually increased his alcohol intake by supporting his decreased hangovers. So, he then was able to enjoy alcohol and it was great. And I said, “Well, it’s still a mitochondrial toxin buddy. You’re still hurting yourself.” And he goes, “Oh.”
And it took about a year, maybe two years, for it to sink in, because he would still be tired. Not hungover, but his performance was going down. He didn’t like it; his moods weren’t as good. So, he started taking methylfolate because I learned about MTHFR and methylfolate. So, he started taking that and it was great.
He started reducing his alcohol intake even more, but he kept taking the methylfolate. So now his alcohol intake went down and he was still on methylfolate; he went from being good on the methylfolate to getting auditory hallucinations and becoming irritable and cranky. And I was like, “Well dude, you’re not drinking so much alcohol anymore. In fact, you stopped, right?” And he goes, “Yeah.”
I said, “Well, you don’t need that much methylfolate anymore because your MTHFR gene isn’t working so hard as it needed to, so you don’t need as much methylfolate. I’d just stopped taking the methylfolate.” And he goes, “Well really? But it helped me so much before.” I said, “Yeah, but look how much you were drinking before. Now you’re not doing that anymore. So stop methylfolate.” He did and all the side effects went away.
I’m not just concerned about the fact that right out of the gate, as soon as we had these genetic tests, that functional medicine doctors (probably because they want to help and they didn’t know what to do with it yet because it was also very new), did this little plug-and-play thing where, “If you have this genetic snip, take this supplement. If you have this one, take that supplement.”
Now I see a lot of them (probably because they read your book and because they’ve noticed the same kind of results you did, where somebody gets better than somebody who doesn’t) they’re saying, “Well, the results aren’t really knocking me out here.” They seem to be getting wiser. There’s a lot more talk out there about, “Hey, that’s not really a useful approach.”
I’m not just worried about the fact that it’s such a tempting marketing play, like you were talking about surgeons using the BRCA I test to sell more radical mastectomies to women who don’t have cancer, like Angelina Jolie so famously did.
Genetic Testing and Supplements
I’m also concerned, besides the fact that it’s just such a tempting marketing play to be a functional medicine doctor and say, “Let me get a genetic test and let me sell you this suite of supplements, which I happened to profit by,” I’m not just worried about that, I’m also worried about the fact that it’s not even all the functional medicine doctor’s fault or the newness of genetic information and how to use it to help patients, I’m also concerned about the fact that it’s like we’re trained in the last couple of generations, in the medical approach, that even people who are pretty holistic-leaning really want to hear, “I have this, therefore I need to take this supplement.”
It’s just a slight variation on the drug approach. “I have this disease; I take this drug.” I see so many functional medicine doctors saying, “You have this disease, therefore take this supplement.” It’s not all that different. It just has less toxicity.
Are you seeing the same thing?
Dr. Lynch; Yeah, and I used to practice that way myself. If a patient came in and they had headaches, I would look for the cause, but I also gave them a supplement for the headaches. I’ve learned that most of the time, the more the individual changes the basics in their life, the less supplements they need. In fact, they do better on less supplements.
Robyn, let’s add the fact that supplement companies are utilizing genetics in their business to promote the sale of supplements. And that’s happening a lot. Big name companies (I’m not going to name names, I won’t do that) [sell supplements], and many doctors trust these physician-based supplement companies to give them trusted supplements, and they’re decent formulas.
They take the patient’s 23andMe data, they run it through — it’s free — and they get a report. It tells them what supplements to buy based upon the genetic report. It’s a plug-and-play method for the doctor.
When I worked as a supplement rep for Biogenesis Nutraceuticals, way back in the day when I was a medical student, I remember walking around conferences, going from supplement company to supplement company, learning about different supplements. Every supplement company had a booklet about, “Here’s leaky gut, here’s what you take for leaky gut, here’s sleep issues, here’s anxiety, here’s supplements you take for that.”
Doctors want the plug-and-play method, just like the patients want the plug-and-play method. These supplement companies are making a fortune doing it. My supplement company will never do this, and we do not do this.
It is a huge, huge conflict of interest because where there’s confusion, there’s fear, and where there’s fear, there’s impulsivity, and where there’s impulsive actions, people will spend money without thinking. It seems easier but it leads down the wrong, unsuccessful pathway. But you’re right, we all want that linear relationship.
Somebody explained it to me really well, Robyn, which makes sense to me. “The more you think, the more calories you burn, more calories you burn, the more you need to go out and forage for more calories. So actually, the easier something is the more increased survivability you have in life to survive and thrive.” That’s back in the day. The more time you spent pondering something, the more calories you burned, the more time it took; you’re probably not going to live. You need to make a quick decision and go with it.
But nowadays we have refrigerators right next to us. We have snacks on our desks, and we have cars, or we have Uber Eats that deliver food right to you. You can think all you want and you’re not going to die. But the reptilian brain in us wants the easy answer because we are still utilizing that ancestral brain aspect and we want everything easy because that’s how we survived for so long.
I think that is a big, big component of why people keep looking for easy answers. And when they read Dirty Genes and I’m informing them that the basics are so, so important, they think, “God, this is so much work.”
Yeah, it is; lifestyle, healthy lifestyle environment, is a lot of work. It took me two years to remodel my home to make it super clean and healthy, but it’s worth it in the long run. For me.
Robyn: It is. It’s where I’m willing to spend my dollars. I’d rather spend less dollars on vacations and a fancy car or whatever. And more dollars having wool carpet in my house and other things that bring my toxic burden down because most people are drowning in it.
Again, just like I’m more concerned about how much people are drinking alcohol, I’m also more interested in what kind of toxicity they have coming in regardless of what their genes are than I am if they have this specific or that specific gene.
We’re just on minute one on the long historical spectrum of what we’re going to find out about genetics. I’m liking to keep an ear to the ground, and you’re my go-to guy because everybody’s dabbling in it, but you’ve really specialized in it. That’s why I love asking you these questions.
For the average person… For a lot of people, it’s a parlor trick and something to talk about at the party. One of my cousins came to me and said, “I don’t know if it came from my dad or my mom, but we one of our great-grand parents, great-great-grandparents, is African American.” And I’m like, “Well, you have darker skin than me, so that probably came from your dad because I’m not related to your dad. I’m only to related to your mom.” All that kind of entertaining stuff that’s coming from people going out there on 23andMe and then going to all their cousins and saying, “Guess what? I found out we have relatives in Finland even though we thought we were Native Americans.”
Should I Do Genetic Testing?
What do you recommend to the average person, so they steer clear of the fear stuff? Should everybody get 23and Me? Should they get a different test? Should they get no test and just eat a healthy diet and live a clean lifestyle? What do you recommend to an average person out there? And if you think there’s specific conditions or people in specific circumstances who should definitely get it, then tell us about that too.
Dr. Lynch: It’s about who’s around you, and what resources do you have.
Genetic testing, while itself is so affordable these days — I think it was only $49 for Ancestry on Amazon Prime Day, which is amazing — it’s not expense of the test is not the barrier. The understanding and the application are the barrier.
If you have a great health professional around you to help guide you, great. If you want to dedicate the time to read Dirty Genes and watch videos of mine on YouTube and Facebook and read articles and spend hours learning, then by all means get some genetic testing done and start uncovering things. It’s a lot of fun.
If you’re the individual who gets nervous and anxious very quickly, and if you find out you have a genetic variance, it’s going to scare the hell out of you and you’re going to make a quick, rash decision because you want to try to fix that thing, then I recommend not doing it. Because what’s going to happen is, you’re going to do genetic testing, it’s going to increase your anxiety.
Stress is a huge issue and it dirties all of your genes and your reactivity is going to make you make a decision that is not right in the short term or long term. It’s going to increase your expense, which is more of an anxiety. It’s becomes a perpetual angst. So, I don’t recommend it.
23andMe’s testing, you can order 23andMe or Ancestry (I actually recommend ordering Ancestry these days) if you order Ancestry and you take the raw data and you import it into my genetic report, Strategene, you get a lot of information. Which you look at as, “Wow, this doesn’t really tell me anything. It’s not very actionable. It shows me some susceptibilities and your dirtier pathways; I don’t really know what to do with this.”
Some people will look at that and become completely overwhelmed and frustrated. Other people will look at their Strategene report and they’ll dive in and watch videos and listen to my Facebook lives.
I think it depends on who you are. And there’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s just what suits you the best.
For me, genetic testing answered a huge amount of questions, was very, very useful, and I’m very glad I’ve done it. I’m very happy that I know that my youngest has APOE 44, because I can teach him at an early age and help protect him, so he doesn’t dirty his APOE 44 even more. I can make sure I protect him in various other ways.
I’m very glad that I know that I have MTHFR and that I know I need to do certain things in my life. I’m also glad to know that why my whole life I’ve been susceptible to various high histamine-containing things. Having the answers to go with that. I can quickly look at how people are interacting, and I can quickly understand which genes they might be born with or how their genes are acting.
For example, there’s a couple here with a son. And she told me that he has a slower COMT gene, which means his catecholamines stay high in his brain, means his norepinephrine and dopamine stay higher in his brain, which has benefits and allows him to focus longer, which is great in that he learns really well. But when he becomes anxious, he starts getting ADD, his test anxiety skyrockets, and he does a really poor on testing.
I said, “Well yeah, because he has ADHD based upon anxiety.” And they’re like, “Wow, that’s, that’s really interesting.” Because when I see his genetics, and he has high levels of dopamine, that when he’s stressed out, he can’t focus anymore because he’s focused on his anxiety. I think that is really, really important to see that that can happen. And when you understand how genetics can influence that, it’s awesome.
Robyn: That seems like really good advice. And for those who want to go deeper with genetics, do you do personal consults where they can get their test and get on a Skype call with you and pay you to review them? Or do they need to read your book?
Where can people find out more from you? What do you recommend there?
Dr. Lynch: The book, hands down. The book on Amazon is about $19 and it’s shipped to your house in the U.S. in a couple of days. Or you can go to the library; a whole ton of libraries across the nation and across the world are carrying it, in different languages as well. I really recommend that you read the book.
This is not a Harry Potter book that you sit down and start a fire, sit on the beach and read cover-to-cover. You can do those things, but it’s not a cover-to-cover book that you read. You read the book in sections, you read something and, “Oh wow, that sounds like me, and that really sounds like me right here. This may really dirty that gene, or it can really clean that gene up.”
And if you have these symptoms, let’s say that you find out that you have a dirty COMT that’s acting slowly and you’re more irritable, you’re cranky, your PMS is really flaring right now, you can’t fall asleep at night and you have estrogen-based cancers in your family lineage. You’re like, “Wow, yeah, I’m definitely slow COMT and I’m going to start taking some actions. What do I need to do here?”
“Dr Lantz says that if I eat less protein at night, that could help, and magnesium could help. I need to take vacations; I need to jump in the sauna. I need to avoid things in my life that really stress me out. I’m taking on too much at work because I’m the go-to person because of my focus and productivity is, I’m type A so give it to me. I can handle it.” And lately your boss, or you are your own boss, you’re like, “Okay, I can take on the world here.”
But you realize that you’re a slow COMT and you have to identify that, “Yeah, I’m type A, I have to schedule a vacation here. I need to go to the Swiss Alps; I need to schedule what Robyn’s talking about for one to three weeks. And I have to go because that is the best thing that I can do for my slow COMT.
“I schedule all these work activities. At the end of the day, what’s most important in my life is to schedule vacations, months in advance, because I am genetically programmed to be a type A person. In order for me to maintain my type A and high productivity, I need to take that three-week vacation once or twice a year to keep going. Otherwise I will start getting insomnia and become irritable. My PMS will flare, and I will get myself set up for estrogen-based cancers. That explains my whole life. I just got that from the book, and it makes me feel okay that I understand that I’m a type A person, that I’m go-to, and that PMS is explainable. I’m not just a raging jerk during these months. It is an actual problem and I am genetically susceptible to it, and even though I’m type A, I know I’m smart enough now to understand that I need to take a vacation.”
You are okay with that. Because you’ve learned that it’s important to take vacations, whereas you learned from your mom or your dad or your brother or someone else that you got to grind, grind, grind, grind. You got to go, go, go, go, go. And now you’ve learning that you actually can’t do that.
I can’t tell you Robyn, how many times people have found out that they’re a slow COMT and the best thing that they’ve ever done was schedule vacations and go on vacation, or move out of the busy bustling city into the country and slow their life down. Most of their symptoms have gone away.
Robyn: I learned a lot from your book about that. And that hit me hard too, in the section there.
If you read the book, you’ll understand what he’s talking about. And it’s just one example of many different genetic anomalies. The slow COMT, you’ll understand what that is. If you read the book, Dr. Lynch goes through plenty of examples from his own life of how his own genetics have clued him into, “Why am I this way?”
You’re really honest and vulnerable in saying, “Yeah, I was this type A person, am a type A, I have a tendency to have this driver personality, this type A personality. And how you realize that there is a genetic component to why you feel like your rage meter goes off the chart really quickly, and now you make lifestyle and diet adjustments to minimize that and to make it better. That’s a lot of what I got out of it.
I’m so grateful for you getting back on the show to answer more questions because this is such a hot topic right now. The book is Dirty Genes, it’s G-E-N-E-S as in genes, genetics; not the blue jeans that you throw in the dryer, or the washer, which is actually the metaphor of the book, which is the clever title.
So, so happy to have you back on the show. I’m so pleased to hear that your book is getting great traction. Thank you so much for being on the Vibe Show again, Dr. Lynch. My pleasure,
Dr. Lynch: My pleasure Robyn, and thanks for helping me get the message out there. I look forward to getting the Swiss Alps and checking out the clinic sometime there.