Part 1: Your Genes, and the ‘Heart’ of the Matter

Not too long ago, this was me… Er… the one behind in the hammock of the first photo. Full of extra flesh and double chins and soooooo much sickness.

In that photo, I was 115kg and since starting a lifestyle change that was increasingly vegetarian, then fully committing to a plant-based diet at the beginning of the year. As I write this, I am at 97.6kg (and still going)… and I’ve been able to reduce many of my medications due to better health.

I was going to include all the info in this post, but I realise it’s more info than most people are likely to want to read in one sitting, so I shall write it in a series of posts. Each symptom I have, since having my DNA data analysed; relates back to my genes and their expression, and how I’ve been affected.

Other than the Psoriatic Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue… I also have Asthma, chronic sinusitis, endometriosis and hereditary hemachromatosis, cholesterol/metabolic disorder, non-coeliac gluten intolerance, high blood pressure, AMPD1 deficiency, MTHFR issues, major depression and I’m currently going through menopause.

HOLY HELL!!! How have I survived? I’m so glad that none of our family have shown signs of pre-diabetes, or diabetes. My mother’s family have a long line of heart fatalities and depression. She died at age 49 of a heart attack. She wasn’t obese, but she was a smoker. The autopsy report said coronary thrombosis, coronary heart disease and ischemic heart disease. My father also has the latter two diagnoses in life… and his heart has actually compensated for a blocked artery by turning a nearby vein into an artery, effectively giving himself a ‘piggy-back’ bypass. Isn’t the body amazing? You can throw shit at it for years and it will do its best with what it gets, but only for so long. My parents have both been life-long smokers.

I’ve been taken off beta-blockers for my heart, Bisoprolol, initially given to me to counteract kidney damage from arthritis medication, by lessening the load on my heart. My kidney and liver levels have since returned to normal since eating a plant-based diet, but my blood pressure has gone down from levels such as 180/100 to 105/70. My blood pressure medication, Cilazipril, has been halved, and my doctor anticipates that the need for it will continuously decrease because of how well I’ve responded to the new way of eating.

The hereditary hemachromatosis means I store iron. They don’t call it the Viking Curse for nothing. Studies say they believe this genetic anomaly came about during the iron age, especially when the Vikings ate and cooked with ironware. It did benefit them though. In battle when they suffered severe blood loss, they recovered quickly where others would die. Not a curse ‘then’ perhaps, but it is now for many Viking and Celtic descendants. Even though I only have one copy of the gene, I have moderately high levels in my body. When the body can’t release it due to some missing enzyme that breaks it down, it stores around the organs and joints, causing ‘arthritis’ like symptoms, which could be another reason why psoriatic arthritis is common in Viking and Celtic descendants. Organ damage, such as cirrhosis of the liver, and heart issues are usually the first sign that there’s something wrong before being tested for hemachromatosis.

Enter my mother’s family heart problems. In women, it’s only revealed later in life when they stop menstruating, however men succumb earlier. The only antidote to avoid organ damage is regular venesection, or ‘blood letting’ to bring the iron stores in the body back to normal levels. So having my DNA tested, and run through Promethease, may seem like a horrible thing to some, but doing so has literally saved my life and will prolong it substantially. Unless I’m hit by a bus.

Which brings me to mention the MTHFR connection, really a topic in itself.
Methylene-tetrahydrofolate Reductase. In short, it’s a section of genes in the DNA strand responsible for the enzymes that involve the absorption of folate, making it available for use in the body. Folate is essential in terms of development. Think neural tube defects in babies which has been widely talked about and the importance of having pre-natal vitamins to support optimal brain health for your developing baby. Depending on the number of genes with deletions in their coding, determines how severely the person is affected. Luckily I only have one copy of the most common genes involved, C677T. My father recently had his DNA tested, and he also has the same copy of the gene.

Quoting Labtests online, here is what they have to say…

The methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene contains the DNA code to produce the MTHFR enzyme. This test detects two of the most common mutations.

When there are mutations or variations in the MTHFR gene, it can lead to serious genetic disorders such as homocystinuria, anencephaly, spina bifida, and others. The MTHFR enzyme is critical for metabolizing one form of B vitamin, folate, into another. It is also part of the process that converts homocysteine into methionine, an important building block for many proteins.

If someone has increased levels of homocysteine, that means the body is not processing it properly. One cause of that could be a mutation in the MTHFR gene, causing homocystinuria. While at least seven unique MTHFR mutations have been found in people with homocystnuria, there are two relatively common DNA sequence variants, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), that are tested. The two MTHFR variants are called C677T and A1298C, and individuals can inherit one or both variants. These SNPs result in changes in the DNA (or mutations) that are associated with decreased MTHFR activity and increased homocysteine levels in the blood, which may increase the risk of premature cardiovascular disease (CVD), formation of inappropriate blood clots (thrombosis), and stroke.

Approximately 5-14% of the U.S. population is homozygous for C677T, meaning that they have two copies of it. There is some ethnic variability in the frequency, with the highest being in those of Mediterranean ancestry and the lowest in those of African ancestry.

The C677T variant results in a less active form of the MTHFR enzyme and reduced ability to process folate and homocysteine. When a person has two copies of the MTHFR C677T gene mutation (homozygous) or one copy of MTHFR C677T and one copy of A1298C (compound heterozygous), decreased MTHFR enzyme activity slows down the homocysteine-to-methionine conversion process and can lead to a buildup of homocysteine in the blood.

The increase in homocysteine is often mild to moderate but will vary from person to person depending upon the amount of MTHFR enzyme activity. Even if a person has two copies of the MTHFR mutation, that person may not develop high homocysteine levels since adequate folate intake can “cancel out” the effect of the MTHFR mutation.

Results of some studies suggest that high levels of homocysteine in the blood may contribute to risk of CVD by damaging blood vessel walls and promoting formation of plaque (atherosclerosis) and inappropriate blood clots. However, a direct link between homocysteine levels and cardiovascular disease or thrombotic risk has not been found. For more on this, see the article on Homocysteine.

A simple google search will provide you with more information about the symptoms of having less bioavailable folate in the body, but at its worst it can cause intellectual disability resembling autism. At the other end and in between, it can cause many symptoms more commonly expressed by terms of ‘illnesses’ such as allergies, depression/mental health and autoimmune disorders, the impaired ability to absorb some medications leading to toxicity in the body, and heart issues. Ding! Ding! Ding! 

I realise I will need to provide references for my information, and I shall add these as I come across them, so never fear. 

See you in part 2…

Copyright words and images by Paula Cunniffe.

That Moment You See Your Arse In A Photo

Aaarrrgggghhhhhhh!!!! When you ask your grandson to take a photo of you on your bike and you discover the last ten years of bad eating stuck to your bum. Motivation!!!!

© Words by Paula M Cunniffe & Photography by Adam Cunniffe, New Zealand.
This article may be republished with permission from the author.

Find me on Instagram @losingnana

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Chicken When It’s Not Really Chicken…

Yes, I’m quite in love with this chickenless chicken… not that I want to be reminded of eating friends. It’s been a great transition food for me having been raised as a true blue meat eater. Like most, it was many years before I discovered the connection to Lilleo the sheep at the back paddock and Lilleo chops and sausages from the freezer. And best of all… this product is 100% kiwi inspired and produced.

By the way, this is not a paid advertisement for Sunfed… although I wouldn’t say no to the possibility!

© Words & Photography by Paula M Cunniffe, New Zealand.
This article may be republished with permission from the author.

Find me on Instagram @losingnana

When You Need To Lose Weight… Get A Dog.

Even my dog, Neo, needs to lose some weight. Ok, extra walks it is.

He was my great leveller. I could barely walk from Psoriatic Arthritis when I first decided to take this rescue boy on. People thought I was crazy and tried to talk me into giving him back.

I hobbled for the longest time, my muscles had atrophied and I could only walk from lamp post to lamp post. I felt like I had long red hot pokers rammed down the middle of my legs to my feet, and each step almost made me cry. It felt like wading through wet concrete and the fatigue waved over me like a relentless tsunami. My thigh muscles clumped into tight rubber bands on the side of my legs, needing physical therapy to release the knots.

I used to be so physically active. I swam, biked, ran, trained at the gym, was a marching girl for 16 years, played hockey, did ballroom and latin dancing competitively.

It’s weird that it took this dog to encourage me to do what I’d needed to do for years since becoming ill, like I didn’t believe I was good enough to do it for my own sake. I didn’t want to let this boy down. He looked at me with such love and trust that I was in complete control. I persevered. Day after day. Rain and shine.

I had to progress to cycling as he wasn’t getting enough of a work out as I painfully creeped along. The cycling has done wonders for my hips, the constant aching now an occasional thing. I’m not so walk-fit anymore, but my performance was very weather dependent and slow. I’m hoping that losing weight will change that for the good.

© Words & Photography by Paula M Cunniffe, New Zealand.
This article may be republished with permission from the author.

Find me on Instagram @losingnana

Tasty And Filling…

So… made this delightful concoction last night. Was a bit of a mixed culinary bag, taste wise. But hey, food is food and it feels so good going down my pie hole. I used butter beans, shallots, garlic, ginger, chilli, red capsicum, carrot, a medium grated potato, and water fried in a very hot and well seasoned wok. Salt and pepper to taste, then I added some chopped fresh basil that was a slight misnomer… but, hey!

© Words & Photography by Paula M Cunniffe, New Zealand.
This article may be republished with permission from the author.

Find me on Instagram @losingnana

Let’s Not Mince Words… I’m Fat.

So… there comes an inevitable time in one’s life when they find themselves… fat. I’ve been here before, lost it, eaten crap… return. So I joined back with my mate, to Weightwatchers. They were so happy to see me back and remembered my name. So glad they didn’t say ‘I told you so’. Three months at half price…. join up with my buddy… what could possibly go wrong? Watch this space.

© Words & Photography by Paula M Cunniffe, New Zealand.
This article may be republished with permission from the author.