MAO-A is an enzyme that has the power to determine a lot of who you are, and the gene SNPs that change its activity have additive effects, just like the COMT gene SNP that we spoke about previously, The various SNPs add up to give you either fast or slow action.
MAO-A stands for Monoamine Oxidase A, and it is a breakdown pathway for your monoamine neurotransmitters, which means serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Unfortunately, those three little things, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, determine so much of how you feel and act in the world.
An interesting aside about the MAOA gene that we mentioned last week as well: most of the genes SNPs we talk about are linked to regular chromosome pairs, meaning there are two functioning copies of each one. The MAO-A gene is X-linked, meaning that it sits on the X chromosome or chromosomes that are responsible for physiological gender determination. Men have only one copy of the MAOA gene and women have two, but one is silent. On women’s genetic tests there is no way to tell which copy of the MAO-A gene is active and which is silent so symptoms are the best place to look.
Fast MAO-A means that breakdown of the neurotransmitters is faster than average, therefore levels of these neurotransmitters are lower than they would be in a person with the wild-type genetics.
Low neurotransmitters is a challenge that people tend to self-medicate, and in this case the easiest and most available self-medication is carbs. Carbohydrate foods are an amazing short-term boost to neurotransmitters, but it really is very short-lived. Sadly, this method fails spectacularly in the long run.
The Carbohydrate Rollercoaster
The carbohydrate rollercoaster is a pretty familiar place for a lot of people. You feel down, or blue, maybe hopeless or even just bored. You know you shouldn’t reach for a cake or chocolate bar, but it’s like you can’t help yourself. You eat the twinkie and feel a burst of goodwill and hopefulness that pretty soon transitions into guilt for packing another twinkie in the saddle bags. Your mood gets darker and soon enough, you’re reaching for a ho-ho to ease the pain. You might even wake up in the middle of the night and need a snack to fall back to sleep.
I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but surely some of you out there recognized your own all too painful cycle. This sad cycle is an easy reality to fall into with a fast MAO-A picture, but in good news, if you know it’s MAO-A it is also reasonably easy to get out of.
What You Can Do To Balance A Fast MAO-A
One of the key factors with a fast MAO-A is helping your psychology and physiology stay balanced, and there are a number of things that can help you to do that.
- Balanced B vitamins – for a slow MAO-A we talked about how important riboflavin is, but for a fast MAO-A we want to make sure you’re gettin all the Bs and not too much riboflavin, which will make this enzyme even faster.
- Complex carbs and protein – Instead of the starch and sugar rollercoaster, the most important thing you can do is to get three regular meals that are high in complex carbs and protein for stable blood sugars and neurotransmitters. This type of carbs, which includes whole grains and lots of fiber, digest slowly and so keep a steady stream of serotonin coming rather than the peaks and valleys that quick carbs produce.
- Remove stressors – Stress is not your friend with any MAO-A imbalance. Life has lots of stressors, but a lot of them are self-imposed. Let go of the food sensitivities, the blood sugar ups and downs, the toxic friends, and any extra jobs or tasks that you’ve picked up that don’t need to be there. Do a stress edit on your life.
- Boost your Glutathione – We’ve talked for ages about this so check out Season 1, Episode 14: MTHFR and Glutathione, and Season 2, Episode 32: Glutathione Review. Glutathione helps to decrease inflammation and reduce some of the negative side effects of burning through neurotransmitters too quickly.
- Eliminate Food Sensitivities – Eating foods that your body is sensitive to raises your inflammation, which in turn drives your body to make more stress hormones and pushes the peaks and valleys of your neurotransmitter levels even higher .
- Meditate – Meditation is one of the most effective non-drug methods of balancing neurotransmitters with any kind of gene SNPs. Even something as simple as 3 minutes of mindfulness meditation daily can have huge results over time.
- Watch your warning signs – With a fast MAO-A you know you’re not keeping the right dietary balance when you’re’ waking up in the middle of the night hungry, or when your emotions are pushing you to the pantry for that sweet treat. If you see these warning signs, make sure your next meal has plenty of complex carbs, a moderate amount of protein, and good fats to feed your neurotransmitters.
- Boost your tryptophan Intake – Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and melatonin and the tryptophan that crosses into the brain most easily is found in complex carb-heavy foods. Keep snacks with a good balance of complex carbs and protein at hand to stabilize blood sugars and give you a steady flow of tryptophan. Think yogurt, oatmeal, nuts and seeds, or some turkey slices rolled in iceberg lettuce.
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Having low serotonin levels (due to high MAO A levels)
- Intense aggression
- There is an anxiety disorder and a social anxiety disorder
- Cravings for carbohydrates
- Constipation. Serotonin is required in order to control gut motility as it activates smooth muscle activity within the gut.
- Depression, especially during the winter months
- Tendencies to act impulsively
- Sleep disorders
- Low pain tolerance
- There is a low level of self-esteem in the individual
- Obsessive-compulsive traits or tendencies
- Higher likelihood of panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder
- Dream recall is poor due to a number of factors
- hobias associated with social situations
Serotonin levels are high (due to a low MAO A level)
- Behaviour that is aggressive
- Antisocial behaviour
- Extreme agitation
- GI distress / nausea
- Muscle twitching
There is a moderate amount of histamine in a healthy diet. Although there are some foods that contain high levels of histamine, some of them can cause inflammation as well as other symptoms that can cause damage to our health.
There are a number of foods that are rich in histamine, including:
- Fermented and cultured beverages like kombucha or kefir
- Fermented foods and dairy products, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, are a good source of probiotics
- Dried fruits
- Meats that have been processed or smoked
- Aged cheese
Additionally, there are a number of foods that are known to trigger the release of histamine in the body, among them:
- Wheat germ
- Citrus fruits
- Nuts, specifically walnuts, cashews and peanuts
- Food dyes and other additives
There are a number of foods that block the production of DAO, the enzyme that breaks down histamine, including:
- Black tea
- Green tea
- Energy drinks
You can reduce the symptoms of histamine intolerance by introducing low-histamine foods into your diet. Although, there is no such thing as an entirely histamine-free diet. If you are thinking of eliminating certain foods from your diet, it is best to consult with a dietician before taking a step.
There are a number of foods that are low in histamine, including:
- Fresh meat and freshly caught fish
- Non-citrus fruits
- Gluten-free grains, such as quinoa and rice
- Dairy free milk, such as coconut milk and almond milk
- Cooking oils, such as olive oil
- Vegetables except spinach, tomato and eggplants