Gene genius: mapping your menopause

There’s an alternative route through the obstacle course of menopause symptoms. It starts with a DNA test 

 

Midlife can be full of surprises – not all of them good. As many as 80% of women report symptoms associated with menopause. The experience is different for everyone, but it can mean being hot, cold, moody, tired, sleep-deprived, irritable or sad. And you can add to that hot flushes, memory loss and a seemingly immovable band of fat around the middle and thighs. You know by now that your fluctuating hormones are the cause of all this, but the good news is, your symptoms don’t have to last forever.   

Understanding your unique genetics can give you valuable insight into how best to support your body and mind during the transition through menopause and beyond. 

We know that our hormone balance can be affected by factors such as diet and stress, but did you know that your genes impact your hormones, too?  

How do genes work? 

We are all born with a specific set of genes that provide a sort of instruction manual for our body. Genes make specific proteins and enzymes, and may function more or less effectively according to your unique genetic make-up. Variations in genes – changes in the instruction manual that makes genes either more or less efficient – can further exacerbate the symptoms that women experience in the years leading up to menopause. Certain genes regulate the production and metabolism of hormones.  

The environment that your genes live in also impacts how well they “behave”. Poor diet, stress, lack of sleep and toxic exposure – essentially, modern life – can cause your genes to behave less than optimally. But it is possible to positively influence your genes with specific nutrients and lifestyle modifications: this is called nutrigenomics, and it’s what companies such as DNApal specialise in. 

One of the most common complaints of menopause is the “inevitable” weight gain around the middle. This is often due to low levels of progesterone, fluctuating levels of oestrogen, and the imbalance between the two. Belly fat – or visceral abdominal fat – is problematic because it is more metabolically active than fat stored in other areas; it releases inflammatory chemicals and contributes to oestrogen dominance through its ability to stimulate the enzymes that produce oestrogen. Women with variations on this group of genes may experience enhanced menopausal symptoms. They have a greater need for antioxidants and should take extra care to manage stress, balance blood sugar and avoid plastics and harmful toxins produced by grilled foods – all of which further stimulate the enzymes that produce visceral fat.  

Hormones have many functions in the body beyond reproduction. 

Oestrogen supports a specific gene that is involved in producing choline, an important nutrient needed by every cell in the body. Choline is paramount for healthy cell membranes, metabolism, energy levels, nerve function, muscle movement, brain development and liver function. Peak oestrogen levels during childbearing years are often enough to support this gene. However, as a woman progresses through perimenopause, and oestrogen levels decline, this gene tends not to function so well, leading to a decrease in choline levels. This can open the door to a wide range of symptoms such as muscle pain or weakness, brain fog, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease and insomnia. Women with the variation in this gene benefit from increased choline intake through eggs, beef liver, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and cruciferous vegetables.   

Choline is also a precursor to betaine, an important nutrient for cardiovascular health. Deficiency of betaine is linked to increased levels of homocysteine, a compound that is highly inflammatory. Elevated homocysteine can lead to the formation of blood clots, hardening of arteries and, ultimately, cardiovascular disease. Ensuring adequate choline intake, along with betaine (think beetroot), through your diet can help to support this pathway. 

Once hormones do their job, they must be eliminated from the body. 

This detoxification process is dependent upon liver function and healthy gut bacteria. A DNA test can tell you which liver enzymes function optimally and which require more support. Variations can lead to an increase in harmful oestrogens and an exacerbated risk of hormone-related cancers. This same family of genes is also responsible for the breakdown of neurotransmitters (the body’s chemical messengers). Slow breakdown of neurotransmitters can lead to intolerance of stress, hyperactivity and heightened pain sensitivity. Supporting these genes requires stress management, extra B vitamins, magnesium, lean protein, cruciferous vegetables and foods rich in ellagic acid, such as raspberries. 

The great thing about a DNA test is that it can provide you with a strategic roadmap to understand how best to support your body and mind in a smoother transition through menopause. 

For a DNA test, plus personalised health and wellbeing advice, try DNApal here. 


Gene genius
 

  • The interplay between genetics, diet and lifestyle factors can influence a woman’s experience during perimenopause and menopause. 
  • As many as 80% of women experience menopause symptoms. 
  • Our genes provide a set of instructions for how proteins and enzymes function in the body. Modern life can create an environment in which our genes may not behave as optimally as we would like. 
  • It is possible to influence the way our genes behave with diet and lifestyle changes. 
  • Our genes influence the production, metabolism and excretion of hormones, all of which can contribute to symptoms of menopause. 
  • Hormones are important for other functions in the body beyond reproduction. The impact of declining hormones in the years leading up to menopause can have a knock-on effect and lead to other health problems. 

 

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