STRUGGLING with DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, or BIPOLARITY? LEARNING can really HELP. Start with ARTICLES above or Topics below. Ty! Bill

Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: Epigenetics…very hot stuff!

What the heck is epigenetics? Great question. I suppose an even better question would be, “Who cares?” Well, if you’re enduring a mood disorder, you probably do (whether you know it, or not).

Okay, epigenetics is the study of the factors influencing the switching on and off of parts of the genome at strategic times and locations – as well as the intensity of these “ons and offs.” And this subject matter is just huge because it’s this activity that orchestrates the very development and maintenance of an organism – including us. To be clear, this is about heritable information within cells that doesn’t involve the DNA sequence itself. Rather, it’s an issue of, shall we say, “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” of the expression of the DNA.

Well, it’s been known for some time that colon cancer and breast cancer genes are regulated by epigenetics. But now it’s time to move upstairs to the brain. And how cool is it that research is telling us epigenetic marks can be influenced by environmental factors? Hmmm – so if that’s the case, could stress be one of these factors? It looks that way.

How ’bout this study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center? It suggests epigenetic changes can, indeed, be induced by stress in adulthood. In the lab, adult mice exposed to highly aggressive neighbors became socially avoidant, defeated, and subordinate. Do those sound like symptoms of depression?

Well, researchers showed the mice developed histone (protein inside the nucleus that manipulates DNA) changes in a depression-related gene; and these changes were reversed by the antidepressant, imipramine (Tofranil). There’s also evidence that other antidepressants, (tranylcypromine) Parnate and (fluoxetine) Prozac, for example, can also alter histone marks. And hey – do you endure bipolar disorder? The widely prescribed mood-stabilizer, valproic acid (Depakote), influences histones, as well.

I’m so heartened by this fascinating epigenetics research. And I’m thrilled there’s a place like the Johns Hopkins Epigenetic Center that continues to crank-out incredible work, targeting how epigenetics may play a role in depression, bipolarity, and stress. And, of course, the bottom-line is, it’s this kind of research that leads to powerful and efficacious treatments.

As always, chipur readers, your comments are valuable! Won’t you contribute?

  • Nancy Frye Peden

    Bill, thanks for sending me to this older post. I must be a case of epigenetics because I had an extremely traumatic childhood and I have genes for ptsd, add, mdd, bipolar and schizophrenia. At one time or another I was diagnosed with all of these except schizophrenia. There is something that is also genetic because both my mom and my granmom were institutionalized with mental illness. But wait, this could also be epigenetic because I suspect that both were very much abused.

    Geez, we in the “new age” used to speak often of “cellular memory” and here we are finally getting it acknowledged by the big dogs!

    Now if they would only choose diet and supplements over rxs….just this morning I was researching rosemary because it is recommended for one of my genetic mutations, one that helps me take up vitamin d. But check this out, if I read this correctly rosemary also reduces histones! Here is an article that mentions a rx that uses many herbs to down regulate histones (

    So maybe the day will come when we can treat these things with herbs! Meanwhile I will keep taking my just received rosemary extract of 500 mg. twice a day. Oh, one last thing, I like taking supps cuz they haven’t figured out yet how to make them long lasting. So I can try something and if it doesn’t work, I can just stop.

    Thanks for being in on the epigenetics, Bill. Not sure I understand how this knowledge helps any better than knowing our genetics but it sure fits my experience well. Sadly.

    • You’re welcome, Nancy. Doing my best to keep all abreast of developing news. Always appreciate your visits…


    • BarbCat

      Hello Nancy. I’m also very hot on the epigenetics trail – believe that this might hold the master key. I haven’t yet received my 23andMe DNA tests but figure I’ve got oodles of SNPs. Even so, just knowing where the SNPs are is good info, but doesn’t really tell you what to do about it

      Don’t know if you’re into William Walsh, PhD (, but he’s clarified so much for me and I especially take to heart his warnings that supplementing willy-nilly can definitely do much harm. I find this hard to do since once I stumble upon a new clue, I want to trawl Amazon and order a bunch of whatever.

      What he’s inculcated in me is the knowledge that just because theirs a SNP in MTHFR, it’s not necessarily expressed and it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a low-methylator but maybe even high-methylator and the low protocol can make things so much worse. Will folate help me or drive me into deeper anxiety? Tricky
      balance and it sure isn’t limited to SNPs in our DNA. The labwork seems awfully necessary to get some kind of trajectory on it.

      I too was abused and so was my father and back and back and back. Most of them, including his sibs, have what is clearly Bipolar mixed states depression, that nasty nasty bugger. That would be me, as well. What I find fascinating is how the epigenetic model explains so elegantly how these environmental traumas affect the expression of DNA and create actual biology. And vice-versa.

      My husband’s cousin’s son had a pretty severe autism spectrum disorder and was found to have primarily a copper overload condition. Went on the Walsh protocol, which back then was through the Pfeiffer Institute. Got better and stays better. This was 20 years ago and as long as he stays on his nutrient protocol, he’s just fine. Absolutely normal and productive young man. But I sure do remember him when…

      I’ll be going through the whole testing and Walsh protocol thing through when they have their outreach clinic here in CA in April. I’d like to stay in touch with you. This is a very exciting but rabbit-holey field and it’s good to bang some insights together with another seeker.

      • “Rabbit-holey” I love it. Let’s see if I can help get the two of you together…

      • Barb when you get your 23 and me back email me at They take forever. I think I can give you some tips. B12 has,really helped me among other things. I use a genetic nutritionist so can share that. Look forward to having an MTHFR friend if you have it. Email me anytime.

      • BarbCat

        Thanks for getting back, Nancy. I’ve really honed onto the Walsh protocol to understand the mental health aspect of epigenetics, and his protocol to balance nutrients so to shift imbalances upstream from neurochemical protein expression. I’m really leery on starting any nutritional protocol at this point, until I do the specific labwork that will hopefully identify where the genetic/epigenetic influences are actually impacting my chemistry. I’m hugely interested in the MTHFR connection but feel that it’s only one, albeit a very large one, part of the puzzle.

        I believe that the genetic assays can only go so far in that they identify upstream potential problems from inherited genetics, kinda like a picture of the globe, but doesn’t provide a roadmap for where you want to go or how to get out of where you are. I think that can only be done by doing specialized labwork to identify where things are not potentially but actually going wrong that are impacting such things as imbalances that overly promote or inhibit proteins and cofactors for such things as neurotransmitter production and oxidative stress factors.

        Even if the test comes back with positive MTHFR mutation, I really hesitate to assume I’m a low (or the rarer ‘high’) methylator and start on folates which can really help or hinder, depending on which kind of methylator you are (or perhaps copper/zinc ratios). I have to assume you are already very aware of this, but gotta get this part out for anyone who is thinking of self treating based on assumptions from genetic tests. The only thing I do at this point is B6 and zinc cause they help with alot of anxiety things. BTW, are you doing the methyl or cobalamin form of B12? I’m very interested in your nutritionist and I’d love to be your email bud. I’ll be in touch.

      • Great Barb. Did I mention the google+MTHFR Community started by Ben Lynch? It is very friendly.

        I respect that you have started on a protocol and understand you may want to stick with it.

        As I often say, some of us can do this on own and some like help. I prefer help so I use the genetic nutritionist at She follows you for six months.

        I think I may have an email from you but have not opened it yet. Look forward to it.