Premature Aging, Lifestyle Changes & DNA Methylation with Dr. Fitzgerald

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Functional Medicine Podcast

The Case of Premature Aging: How Lifestyle Changes and DNA Methylation Lead to Big Breakthrough with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald

Unraveling the Mystery of DNA Methylation: Is it the Secret to Your Desired Optimal Health?

The Case: 

  • Laura has thyroid issues causing her to feel overweight and her constantly dry skin made her feel like she was aging too fast.
  • She suspected that her issues might be genetic so she did a DNA test which revealed that she had the MTHFR gene. 
  • She tried biohacking; taking high doses of B vitamins and a cocktail of other supplements but nothing got her the results she was looking for. 


My suspicions were that her various supplements might not be right for her. I also wanted to take a closer look at her diet and lifestyle. 

Because I suspected that the answers were going to be found at the intersection of genetics, diet, and lifestyle I knew that Dr. Kara Fitzgerald would be the perfect person to consult with since she is an expert in epigenetics, nutrition, and aging. She is the author of two incredible books, Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better and Better Broths & Healing Tonics: 75 Bone Broth and Vegetarian Broth-Based Recipes for Everyone

Unveiling the Power of Epigenetics

We often associate our health, thyroid function, and immune system with genetics and autoimmunity. However, as Dr. Kara explains, it is not our genes alone that determine our level of health, immune system function, or even our age. Instead, it is our epigenetics that play a significant role. I know there’s a lot of confusion surrounding this topic, and in this episode, Dr. Kara shed some light on it.

She explains that in the early 2000s, scientists successfully deciphered the human genome. They discovered that we possess a little over 23,000 genes, and many believed that this knowledge would provide a clear roadmap to understanding and treating diseases. However, the reality turned out to be quite different. In over 90% of cases, genes alone do not determine our health outcomes. For most of us, the key lies in how our genes are being turned on and off—a fascinating field known as epigenetics that we’ve covered before in episode 143.

Unleashing the Potential of Epigenetic Expression

Epigenetics emerged as a prominent field of study after the completion of the Human Genome Project. It explores the factors that influence gene expression, such as our diet, exposure to toxins, stress levels, social connections, and exercise habits. Simply put, we have the power to determine which genes are activated and which ones remain dormant. Ideally, we want to activate the genes associated with health, longevity, and overall well-being while silencing those that contribute to disease progression.

This realization is particularly empowering for individuals like Laura, who believed that her family history of Hashimoto’s meant she was destined to follow the same path. However, epigenetics shows us that we are not bound by our genetic heritage alone. 

Lifestyle and Nutrition: The Epigenetic Keys

Dr. Kara dives into the exciting realm of lifestyle and nutrition, revealing some of the most significant factors that influence gene expression. Understanding these keys can help us unlock the potential for anti-aging, detoxification, and disease prevention.

1. Diet Program: Dr. Kara shares insights from a groundbreaking study on biological aging, which focused on DNA methylation—a marker of aging and gene expression changes. The study participants followed a specific diet program designed to optimize gene expression. The key elements of this diet program include:

  • Veggies and Greens: Emphasizing a plant-rich diet with an abundance of greens and cruciferous vegetables, cooked to support thyroid health.
  • Low-Glycemic and Fruit-Dense: Opting for low-glycemic vegetables and incorporating dark berries rich in polyphenols.
  • Smart Protein Choices: Eggs and liver (if open to consuming them) are excellent gene whispering foods, while seeds, nuts, and fatty fish provide essential nutrients.
  • Healthy Oils: Including extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil in cooking.
  • Vitamin D and Mushrooms: Ensuring sufficient vitamin D intake and recognizing the gene-regulating properties of mushrooms, such as shiitake and maitake.

2. Herbs and Spices: Dr. Kara highlights the impact of polyphenols found in various herbs and spices. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, curcumin, turmeric, quercetin, and resveratrol are just a few examples of potent gene regulators.

It’s important to note that while we may inherit some gene expression patterns from our parents and ancestors, we still hold the reins and have the power to influence our health destiny. Understanding this gives us the opportunity to make informed choices and take control of our well-being.

Dr. Kara emphasizes the vital connection between epigenetics, aging, and thyroid disease. Aging acts as a primary driver for various chronic conditions, including hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, and subclinical hypothyroidism. Exploring the changes in epigenetic expression and DNA methylation provides valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms of these conditions.

Epigenetic Lifestyle: A Holistic Approach to Optimal Health

Dr. Kara uses her study and others as examples to showcase that it’s not just about individual foods but a synergistic combination that maximizes the effects on gene expression. She explains that her program incorporates low glycemic choices, intermittent fasting, exercise, and other crucial lifestyle factors.

The Power of Simple Lifestyle Changes

Dr. Kara says the key to success is by making simple, doable lifestyle changes to improve our health and slow down the aging process. She emphasizes that the goal is not to engage in extreme measures but rather to focus on sustainable habits that can positively impact our overall well-being. That was the motivation behind her research team’s design of a program called “Younger You” that aimed to create meaningful changes in participants’ health. The program included a simple exercise prescription, prioritized quality sleep, incorporated basic meditation practices, and recommended the use of a greens powder and probiotic supplement.

The results she shared were truly astonishing to me. 

Understanding the Role of DNA Methylation

DNA methylation plays a crucial role in gene expression and epigenetics. We’ve talked about this before (on this episode about the MTHFR gene) but it’s important to go beyond that. Methylation is involved in numerous essential processes in the body, from metabolizing hormones and neurotransmitters to maintaining optimal cell function. Methylation is influenced by various factors, including nutrients, gut health, and the microbiome.

Comprehensive testing is needed to assess methylation status and overall metabolic function. This involves looking at biomarkers such as homocysteine and methylation cycle intermediates. A functional medicine approach goes beyond the methylation cycle and explores other metabolic aspects, including gut health and individual nutrient needs. By understanding each person’s unique metabolic profile, personalized interventions can be implemented to optimize health and well-being.

However, before diving deeper into methylation, Dr. Kara offered a bit of a caveat: it’s important not to focus too much on genetics as it can cause anxiety. Dr. Kara says that our genes do not determine our destiny. Other tests, such as the organic acid test can help us paint a bigger picture of what’s going on and allow us to use a more holistic approach to solving health mysteries. 

DNA Methylation and Disease Risk

There are two things to consider with methylation: overmethylation (hypermethylation) and undermethylation (hypomethylation). However, Dr. Kara clarified that these are not necessarily the phenomena that regulate gene expression through epigenetics and DNA methylation. Methylation patterns can be complex, and it is crucial to consider the context and specific genes involved.

Dr. Kara says her study demonstrates that lifestyle interventions, particularly dietary changes, can positively influence DNA methylation patterns. Contrary to the popular belief of simply increasing methylation, it is about directing the methylation process to beneficial areas. She emphasizes the role of exercise, sleep, stress management, and toxin avoidance as critical epi nutrients that regulate DNA methylation. These lifestyle factors work in harmony with dietary interventions to support optimal methylation.

The study’s outcomes highlight the body’s remarkable ability to heal and rebalance when provided with the right tools. Dr. Kara emphasizes that it is not about overwhelming the body with numerous supplements but rather making meaningful changes in our diet and lifestyle. These changes can have a profound impact on rebalancing methylation and gene expression.

Implications for Thyroid Autoimmunity

Like Laura, many of you are dealing with hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, and autoimmunity so I wanted to dive deeper into the role of imbalanced methylation. Dr. Kara shares that certain genetic variations and imbalances in methylation can contribute to the development of autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s, thyroiditis, and Graves’ disease. Understanding and addressing methylation imbalances can be a valuable aspect of a comprehensive approach to managing thyroid health. Testing methylation markers and tailoring interventions based on individual needs can lead to more targeted and successful outcomes.

Happy Ending

Knowing that DNA methylation has a huge impact on immune system health and overall health, I knew we had to take that into account in our holistic approach to dealing with Laura’s health mystery. 

We started by focusing on her diet. She wasn’t eating well and was relying on vitamins to make up for her nutritional shortages but she was overdoing it. To correct this, we did a phasic approach where first we removed lectins and then moved to a grain-free diet. We then slowly added different foods back in.

At that point, we did some testing through organic acids and micronutrients. She was already feeling a lot better and that is when we started adding the nutrients that were most beneficial for her based on the results of her testing.

Eliminating Health Mysteries

For Laura, we were able to find that missing piece of the health puzzle and help her regain her health. Could this be the missing clue for you or someone in your life? 


Resources mentioned

Thanks to my guest Dr. Kara Fitzgerald. You can learn more about her programs and research on her website or connect with her on Instagram. The book we discussed is Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better

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Related Podcast Episodes:

108 The Case of Fatigue and Brain Fog Made Worse by B Vitamins

34 The Case of Unrelenting Depression and Anxiety w/ Dr. Loren Marks

143 Your Family History Goes Beyond Genetics: A Novel Way to Look at Hashimoto’s

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