Written by: Dr. Ben Lynch
Welcome to this week’s SNPit. This is where we get down and dirty on a specific topic about your health. Today’s topic is: Genes vs. Enzymes: Do you know the difference?
I'm Dr. Ben Lynch — welcome to the Dirty Genes Podcast. I hope you enjoy the episode! If you do, be sure to give a thumbs-up, rate it, leave a comment, and Subscribe here.
Click the video below to watch the Dirty Genes Podcast, listen to the episode on your favorite platform, or keep scrolling to read the transcript of Episode 8: Genes vs Enzymes: Do you know the difference?
Welcome to this week's SNPit. This is where we get down and dirty on a specific topic. This week's topic is: What's the difference between a gene and an enzyme? I'm Dr. Ben Lynch, and this is the Dirty Genes Podcast.
Maybe you've heard the terms "gene" and "enzyme" used interchangeably. Maybe you've wondered what they are, maybe you don't care. But it's important that I do shed the light on this topic because I use the term "gene" a lot and I use the term "enzyme" a lot. You're going to be reading these a lot as well, because if you are reading Dirty Genes or you're studying epigenetics and you want to improve your own health by improving your own choices, then you should know the difference.
Basically, the difference is very simple. A gene makes your enzymes. Enzymes do not make genes. The blueprint for your enzymes is determined by your genes. So, you've inherited a gene from your mom and your dad, and there is a specific blueprint for that gene. Once that gene prints out the enzyme, then it's the enzyme that actually goes off and does the work.
Let’s say you go to the doctor and they check your liver enzymes. You get the results back, and your liver enzymes are elevated. What does that mean? That means the genes in your liver, your liver genes, are dirty. They are actually increasing in function because you've done something to your liver to increase the demand for those liver genes to produce more liver enzymes. When your doctor orders your liver enzymes panel, it’s because they want to see how your liver is performing. If your liver enzymes are elevated, it’s a sign that your liver genes are dirty. Your liver genes increase their function in order to offset the problems that are occurring.
So, more enzymes are needed in order to deal with a problem, maybe alcohol, right? A common reason for liver enzymes to be elevated is because of alcohol ingestion; alcohol is a toxin. It's a nasty chemical toxin. In order to get rid of that alcohol and the components of alcohol, like aldehydes, your genes have to produce enzymes to get rid of all that. So you're putting more work on your genes to print out a bunch of enzymes, so these enzymes can get rid of the alcohol and the aldehydes. If you stop drinking alcohol, your genes don't get triggered as much because there's not so much work to do there. The alcohol is not in your blood anymore, and so the genes go, "Oh, there's not much alcohol. We don't need to go to work." Your liver genes don’t need to keep producing more liver enzymes. And what happens? Your liver enzymes, according to your doctor, returned to "normal," meaning that your genes are not producing a high amount of enzymes.
Anytime you see something on your labs, it is most likely because your genes are either responding to make an enzyme or your genes are unable to make an enzyme. You're going to look at a lab report in a different way. Now you're going to look at your liver enzyme labwork and think:
“This means my liver genes are dirty. That means I need to clean them up. And yes, I've been drinking alcohol. Yes, I've been consuming too much carbohydrate. Yes, I've been overeating. Yes, I haven't been exercising. Yes, I've been, yes, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I need to clean up those particular genes so my genes don't have to work as hard. And then my enzymes won’t be printed out at such high levels, and they'll return to a baseline normal at rest.”
You've inherited genes, which are your blueprints for producing your enzymes. But what if you've inherited a genetic variant in your MTHFR gene, or any gene that is slightly different than someone else's? For example, I have the MTHFR gene. I've inherited the MTHFR gene to be slightly different than other people's. My MTHFR gene has two misspellings in it, two changes in the blueprint. And those two changes in my blueprint slow down my MTHFR enzymes. When my MTHFR gene makes the MTHFR enzyme, my enzyme isn't as responsive as someone else's. It's not as responsive in higher temperatures. It is not as responsive in low riboflavin environments. It's just doesn't work very well. So I need to be mindful of the temperature that I'm exposing myself to. And I love saunas, but saunas might be actually harming the function of my MTHFR enzyme. But if I am supporting my MTHFR enzyme with sufficient riboflavin, that's okay.
You need to understand that whatever genes you've inherited from your mom and your dad, those genes are producing certain enzymes. Genetic variations (mutations) cause enzymatic variation in terms of its shape and thus its function. Because shape determines function in the human body. If your enzyme is shaped like my hand holding a pencil and you throw me a ball to catch, I'm not going to be able to catch that ball. It can write but it can't catch a ball. Let’s say my MTHFR enzyme is shaped slightly differently in the area where riboflavin is supposed to attach. I know I need riboflavin to attach to my MTHFR enzyme in order for it to function. But the receptor where it’s supposed to attach is not very clean. Maybe there's a couple of thorns stuck in there. Maybe the shape is a bit different. Maybe it's a key that you got to jiggle in the lock. It's not quite good, all these different things. So I need to get vitamin B2 (riboflavin) in higher amounts so my MTHFR enzyme will work better because of my MTHFR genetic variation.
In short, the difference between a gene and an enzyme is this: Genes are the blueprint to make your enzymes. Your genes produce enzymes, which then do the actual work. It's the epigenetics that you are doing in your life: the lifestyle choices, the foods, the environments that you're around, the vitamins and medications that you take or you don't take...these things affect how your enzymes are performing. You start getting symptoms when you are putting a huge load on your genes to produce a high amount of enzymes in order to deal with them a problem. And the flip side is also true. You're also putting a burden on your body when you are not putting enough pressure on certain other genes because you don't have the tools available for them to get to work.
For example, if you want to make dopamine in your brain so you can focus and pay attention and have a good mood, your genes are there to provide that ability for you. When somebody gives you a hug, dopamine can get stimulated to be produced. The dopamine-producing genes get to work to make the dopamine-producing enzymes. But if those dopamine-producing enzymes don't have the ingredients or the tools at hand in order to do that, you don't get any dopamine. Your moods are flat. Your focus is garbage. Your concentration isn't good. Your learning ability isn't good. And so then you go to the doctor and you're like, "Doc, my focus sucks. My concentration sucks. My ability to learn isn't good. They're saying I have learning difficulties. What do I need to do?" The doctor can put you on some medications to increase dopamine, like methamphetamines, or they can say: "Well, tell me about your diet. What's your diet?" "Oh, I've just been following the ketogenic diet lately because I really want to try that out and intermittent fasting. It's been really helping other people out, so I gave it a shot." "Well, how much fat are you eating?” “Well, obviously, it's keto. So I'm eating mostly fat." "How much protein are you eating? “Hardly any, because that takes me out of ketosis." "Okay. So if you're not eating much protein, then you're not making much dopamine." "What do you mean?" "Well, in order to make dopamine, your dopamine-producing enzymes need tyrosine to produce L-DOPA, which is converted to dopamine." "Oh, you're saying if I don't consume enough protein, my COMT genes, even if they are printing the COMT enzymes to produce dopamine, if I'm not eating enough protein, my ability to make dopamine is bad?" “Exactly.” If you have the ability to make dopamine, and we all do, you have to have the ingredients in your body in order to make dopamine. If your genes print out the enzymes to produce something, but you don't give them the ingredients to produce it, your enzymes don't work. It’s that simple.
If you've inherited specific genes that have genetic variants, you might be nervous about these “genetic mutations.” Remember that your genes are making your enzymes. Whatever your enzymes have available to them, is what they’ll use. If my MTHFR variant is 70% less responsive, I know what I need to do in my life. And that is consuming more riboflavin, be careful with how much protein I eat, and make sure I'm consuming sufficient levels of folate, and avoiding folic acid.† Your genes are your blueprint. The blueprints of your genes print your enzymes. And it's your enzymes that do the work. But your enzymes cannot do the work unless you do the work. Don't forget that you need to do the work so your enzymes can perform for you, and if they perform for you, you're performing and you're feeling optimal. Take care.
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