Epigenetic disorders and nutritional dependencies

I have been the first and I am still one of the few therapists in Germany who is accredited by the Walsh Institute and can officially offer the Walsh Protocol. This protocol identifies and treats epigenetic disorders with a focus on mental disorders that are caused by epigenetically fixed nutritional dependencies. In contrast to genetic disorders (which are really only very few disorders, e.g. Down syndrome), in epigenetic disorders, the genes are completely fine, but these are read out in a limited fashion. Every cell carries DNA, which serves as a guide for enzymes to produce proteins. These in turn are needed for the construction of all tissues, including neurotransmitters. In epigenetic disorders, these enzymes do not read the genes optimally. Perhaps it is even the case that the genes hide or excessively offer certain areas of their chromosomes. This then leads to, among other things, so-called undermethylation or overmethylation. Methylation is a process that takes place in every cell of the body.

However, other epigenetic disorders are also conceivable that I will get to in a minute.

When it comes to fixed nutritional dependencies, changes in our ancestors’ or in our own life (mostly in the womb) led to an increased need for certain nutrients, while other nutrients, in turn, are not tolerated. Nutritional dependencies will lead to a nutritional need in the body that can not be satisfied even through the best nutrition and not even through nutritional supplements in pharmacological amounts. Nutritional dependencies require nutritional supplementation in very high amounts to be satisfied. This also means that the body will not react to lower dosages at all or only very slightly, symptoms will simply persist. Unfortunately, there are quite a few nutrients that very many people have developed nutritional dependencies from. The Walsh Protocol covers a few of them. You can find more about all the nutritional dependencies known to me here

Dr. William J. Walsh has been researching the connection between nutritional dependencies and mental illness for 30 years and has also published databases and studies about it. However, it makes sense to test for epigenetic disorders not only in mental problems. Many physical problems can also be traced back to an epigenetic disorder. There is simply not that much research on this yet. I have come to understand through my own research and experience, that the fixed Survival Mode is kept in place by a number of epigenetically fixed nutritional dependencies. 

I understand the mission of my therapeutic work not only as holistic but as integral. I do not distinguish between body and psyche. With the Walsh Protocol, I have found another piece of the puzzle on the way to health and healthy development. People often put high hopes in this protocol expecting a miracle pill, which it isn’t of course. Dr. Walsh himself says that psychotherapeutic measures are very important in mental illness, as are lifestyle and diet. However, he has been able to help some patients with severe mental illnesses (depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc.) live completely or partially free of medication. This functional improvement, as great as it may be, is not enough for me as a practitioner of integral medicine, which is why I do not implement the Walsh Protocol as a relief measure, but as an aspect of integral medicine. 

Epigenetic disorders are more common than one might think. While only 30% of the normal population are abnormal methylators, for example (the remaining 70% are simply normal methylators), they naturally accumulate in therapeutic practices. But very many, if not all people in my practice have problems with copper metabolism (which is not to be equated with excess and means another epigenetic disorder).

Traits and symptoms

Dr. Walsh has identified clinical symptoms that go with the epigenetic disorders that he has identified. Even only a 30% match of these features can give a good indication of the presence of the matching disorder (but of course it does not have to, and the psychiatric symptoms are of course also rather rare). Dr. Walsh has identified the following epigenetic disorders: Overmethylation, Undermethylation, Pyrrole disorder, Metallothionein disorder, and the inability to metabolize copper. Please find common symptoms and a brief description in the following paragraphs. 

Undermethylation

  • Compulsive behavior
  • Perfectionism
  • Hay fever
  • Low pain threshold
  • Ritualistic behavior
  • Strong will
  • Competitive behavior in group activities
  • Calm on the outside, tense on the inside
  • Frequent headaches
  • Family history or own “over achievement
  • Delusions
  • High self-motivation in school
  • Poor concentration
  • Social withdrawal
  • Addictive behavior
  • Anxieties
  • Good tolerance of antihistamines
  • High “body moisture” (tears, salivation, etc.)
  • Good tolerance of antidepressants (serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • Very high libido (I have only observed this in some males and people on the spectrum)
  • Asperger’s or autism diagnosis (also in the family)
  • Difficulty to build muscles
  • Intolerance of folic acid
  • Poor tolerance of sedatives such as Valium

Neurotransmitters that are low: serotonin and dopamine

Overmethylation

  • Nervousness or tendency to panic
  • Hyperactivity (even just in childhood)
  • Low libido
  • Body “pear-shaped
  • Tendency to gain weight
  • Restless legs, tendency to fidget or pace
  • Post Natal Depression or psychosis
  • Intolerance of serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Feeling people think badly of one
  • Tends to be unmotivated at school
  • High pain threshold
  • Diagnosis of schizophrenia or paranoia (even just in the family)
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Pain in upper body, neck, shoulder
  • Excessive body hair, hirsutism
  • Food allergies/intolerances
  • Sensitivity to environmental toxins
  • Artistic or musical talent
  • Intolerance to copper/copper excess
  • Recurrent eczema
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Obsessive behavior without obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Absence of hay fever
  • Good muscle tone
  • Sensitivity to environmental toxins/chemicals
  • Good tolerance to sedatives such as Valium
  • Intolerance of estrogens (own and others, such as the pill or IVF), tendency to estrogen dominance

Neurotransmitter high: dopamine, serotonin, therefore intolerance of SAM-e or methionine

Both undermethylators and overmethylators can be prone to depression. This is where biochemical individuality comes into play. Not every depressive needs serotonin. An overmethylator may experience a worsening of their condition as a result, which can go as far as suicidality – something that I can personally attest to being an overmethylator who was put on Prozac in early adulthood.

Pyrrole Disorder

Some people may have heard of Pyrrole Disorder before. The difference in Dr. Walsh’s treatment is the administration of much higher dosages of certain nutrients, for example. There are more symptoms of Pyrrole Disorder, but the following have turned out to be the most reliable. 

  • Low stress tolerance
  • Anxiety (also fear of the future or existence)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Morning sickness (also during pregnancy)
  • Aversion to eating breakfast
  • Very dry skin
  • Paleness, cannot tan in the sun
  • Anger, rage, or irritability (with inability to hold back occasional explosions)
  • Inability to realize one’s potential, “underachiever”
  • Can’t remember dreams or can hardly remember them
  • Auto-immune disorders
  • White spots on the nails
  • Delayed growth (body length, in males possibly also genitals)
  • Thin eyebrows
  • Tendency to stretch marks
  • Severe depression
  • Circles around negative thoughts, obsessed with them
  • Delayed puberty
  • Hydroxy-hemopyrrole-pyridoxal-5-phosphate-zinc chelate (HPL) in urine
  • Dark or mauve colored urine
  • Abnormal ECG
  • Increased oxidative stress
  • Poor short-term memory, sometimes can’t tell at the end of the page what was read at the beginning
  • Sensitivity to loud noises
  • Preference for salty or spicy foods
  • Abnormal fat distribution
  • Petite facial structure
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Difficulty learning to read
  • Extreme inner tension
  • Frequent infections
  • Premature graying of hair
  • May have difficulty building muscle
  • Possible problems with testosterone balance
  • “Fruity” breath or body odor
  • Pain in the area of the spleen
  • Histrionic behavior (drama, theatrical)
  • Joint pain
  • Poor wound healing
  • Psoriasis
  • Tendency to go to bed late at night
  • Amenorrhea

Neurotransmitters low: serotonin, dopamine, GABA, NMDA, possibly high: adrenaline due to chronic deficiency of vitamin B6 and zinc, in some cases also manganese

Problems with copper metabolism, including copper excess 

  • Hyperactivity
  • Cannot realize its potential
  • Sensitive skin (rough tissue, tags in clothing are not tolerated)
  • Intolerance of estrogens, estrogen dominance
  • Worsening, beginning of symptoms in puberty
  • White spots on the nails
  • Intolerance of “cheap” metals, e.g. nickel jewelry
  • Emotional breakdowns, frequent anger
  • Tinnitus, ringing in the ears
  • Intolerance of artificial food dyes, seafood and other high copper foods. Chocolate is high in copper and is often requested by people with copper poisoning. Some people with copper poisoning also have an aversion to chocolate.
  • Great anxiety
  • Poor immune system
  • Sleep problems
  • Poor concentration and focus
  • Postnatal depression in women
  • Neurotransmitters high: adrenaline, norepinephrine, low: dopamine
  • Zinc deficiency (chronic or acute)
  • Problems controlling temper, outbursts of anger
  • Strong emotional irritability
  • Aversion to eating breakfast
  • Preference for salty or spicy foods
  • Delayed growth (in males also of the genitals)
  • Frequent infections
  • Delayed puberty
  • High level of oxidative stress
  • Poor wound healing
  • Acne
  • Premature graying of hair
  • White spots on fingernails
  • Food intolerances

Pyrrole Disorder, zinc deficiency, and copper excess have a few things in common, as zinc deficiency is part of Pyrrole Disorder disorder. Zinc and copper are antagonists. Therefore, zinc deficiency often results in copper excess.

Disturbance in metallothionein metabolism

Metallothionein (MT) acts as an antioxidant, among other things, and is basically more important than glutathione. If the body runs out of glutathione, MT should step in. In many people (especially autistics and people on the spectrum), neither system works. In undermethylators, there will often be a disturbance of the glutathione balance that results from issues in the MT metabolism. MTs create a net, so to speak, which protects the body from invading harmful influences, including the defense (e.g. in the intestine) and the removal of heavy metals. Disorders in the MT household can also lead to mental illness due to toxicity. Autism is also associated with a faulty MT system. There is initial research linking such disorders to Alzheimer’s disease as well, as well as other degenerative diseases. 

  • Disorders in early brain development
  • Lack of antioxidants
  • Disorders in detoxification of mercury and other heavy metals
  • Increased inflammation after accidents or illnesses
  • Weakened blood-brain or intestinal barrier (leaky gut)
  • Maldevelopment and weakness of the immune system
  • Defective transport of zinc in the body
  • Regulation of copper and zinc in the blood
  • Prevention of yeast overgrowth in the intestine
  • Faulty regulation of the pH value in the stomach
  • Faulty regulation of taste sensation on the tongue
  • Destruction of enzymes that digest gluten and casein
  • Deficient signaling of zinc in the brain
  • Lack of regulation of tumor-suppressing genes
  • Lack of regulation of transcription factor (DNA)

MT disturbances may also be behind copper/zinc imbalances. Should symptoms arise, it would make sense to detect all these disorders early in childhood. Unfortunately, this is not done. A lot of suffering and medical costs could be prevented. In some cases, the effects of epigenetic imbalances are irreversible with increasing age. Brain development in autistic people, for example, continues abnormally if the undermethylation is not corrected. This does not mean that autistic people should not be treated as adults. However, the chances of improving the condition decrease. Disruptions of zinc, copper and/or Pyrrole Disorder are common. In males, the body will often “decide” between length growth and the growth of genitalia. More and more often, I encounter short statures in men or hypogonadism (=underdeveloped genitals which can occur even with moderate zinc deficiency).

Differing opinions about the testing and treatment of epigenetic disorders

There are colleagues who determine methylation disorders by genetic testing (Drs. Lynch and Yasko, among others). In these, it is determined whether the MTHFR gene is mutated. If it is, the affected person is deemed an undermethylator.

Dr. Walsh, on the other hand, assumes that methylation disorders do not depend solely on this gene. He, therefore, tests the blood to measure the actual state of the disorder, not just the potential for it, which may be due to mutation by the MTHFR gene. 

According to some doctors, methylation status changes constantly. Therefore, an undermethylator can become an overmethylator through over-supplementation (mostly with folate) at times, whereas overmethylators don’t exist other than through over-supplementation (at least it was so last time I checked their research). Dr. Walsh on the other hand has found out that the methylation status is for life. An overmethylator is not produced out of an undermethylator. He also claims that the methylation status can be balanced with nutrients, but not fundamentally changed. I do agree with Dr. Walsh that undermethylators do not become overmethylators through supplementation. They are born. However, I have come to challenge his assumption that methylation is “set in stone” through epigenetic bookmarks. First, shamans of all ages have successfully permanently removed epigenetic blockages for ages. Second, my own experience is pointing in that direction (I may one day corroborate it with test exams). 

Overall, Dr. Walsh’s approach convinced me. I have followed the topic of “methylation” in the naturopathic and functional medicine scene for many years. I haven’t looked into it for a long time because the results didn’t convince me (patient forums and blogs can provide really good info). I have known about Dr. Walsh for a long time, but he has only quite recently written his book and made an official training out of his method. Now a practitioner myself, I can substantiate Dr. Walsh’s claims with my experiences and the ones of my patients. 

So, the bottom line is that I am not convinced about testing for methylation disorders by genetic testing. More details in this video by Dr. Walsh.

Also, according to Dr. Walsh, a test of neurotransmitters, e.g. in urine, does not allow any conclusions about the methylation status. This is because such tests only reflect the status of neurotransmitters in the gut, not the status of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Dr. Walsh’s therapy is also not done with neurotransmitter precursors, because the problem is much deeper, at the epigenetic level. They affect neurotransmitters, but not exclusively. Accordingly, acting on the neurotransmitters through precursors is only symptomatic treatment.

If you want to know more about epigenetics and the Walsh Protocol, go to the website of the Walsh Institute or read Dr. Walsh’s book. 

Beware of unqualified practitioners and labs

The implementation of the Walsh test and the corresponding evaluation should only be carried out by qualified therapists.

There are many half-truths circulating on the internet about the Walsh Protocol that could lead to a serious deterioration of health and well-being. Treatment according to the Walsh Protocol has been well tested by Dr. Walsh, but the therapist should know first hand what they are doing.

Unfortunately, after the publication of Dr. Walsh’s book, therapists are attempting to offer his method without having attended the appropriate training. While there are certainly “schools” that treat the subject of methylation differently, Dr. Walsh has his own unique method that should not simply be mixed in with the statements of the other schools because they are not compatible.

The application of the Walsh Protocol should also not be done in a self-experiment, because from reading the internet or even Dr. Walsh’s book, treatment according to the Walsh criteria cannot be implemented properly.

I can only advise anyone interested to protect themselves from unqualified treatments and, if necessary, to ask the Walsh Institute whether the practitioner in question is qualified. Not every therapist is listed in their practitioner list, but the institute is always happy to provide information about qualified therapists.

Also, testing of the parameters recommended by Dr. Walsh should only be done in laboratories that are familiar with the Walsh method. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case anywhere in Germany or Europe. Findings from other laboratories than those accredited by Walsh, unfortunately, differ significantly from the results of laboratories working according to the Walsh method. My practice has tried to establish testing possibilities in Germany several times, unfortunately without success so far. Dr. Walsh has his parameters analyzed according to special procedures, which German laboratories have so far been unwilling to accept. As a result, our practice has no choice but to cooperate with Dr. Walsh’s laboratory in the USA.

Of course, we perform the Walsh test under the correct preclinical conditions and according to the correct procedure. All Walsh samples are sent to a special laboratory in the USA after the blood collection has taken place under the correct preclinical conditions in our practice.

It is therefore not advisable to perform testing on your own without proper instruction about preclinical conditions as well as handling and shipping, as incorrect results may lead to treatment with adverse effects.

Here you will find practical instructions on how to prepare for the Walsh test if you would like to have this test performed in our practice.

Image: Own work/Canva