Friday, January 7, 2022
Hey 'Cuz - You Ask Your Mom, Please
I’ve been doing genealogy for a hobby for about 12 years. That’s when my Dad first decided to take the plunge and get his DNA tested. I knew some other folks on the internet who were looking into nutrigenomics, and because of my background in science, I was interested in looking into that to see if it could help with my bizarro health problems. What I found was fascinating.
I have been trying to figure out how to share this with my closer family members in a way they can really get it. I can see where a lot of my health problems arose in my DNA. I have had periods of vibrant health, and other periods where I am not doing well. I am prone to a lot of the same health problems as my other family members. I didn’t choose my genes. Because of having periods of vibrant health, I’m not a genetic determinist per se, but I understand probably better than many doctors and maybe even some geneticists what “turns on” some of the problematic genes I inherited because of the ways my symptoms have presented with respect to my history with environmental exposures to chemicals and stress. I’ve had a heckuva time trying to avoid these as a mother in this modern world.
Much of my understanding of these factors has also been informed by what others have also shared with me regarding their diets and lifestyle, and health outcomes they have made me privy to. My own experiences, combined with what people have shared have helped inform specific thinking on patterns of addiction and how genetics and environment affect addictive behavior. My model takes into account something I have never heard considered in addiction research, which is specifically that alcohol can interact with the metabolism of other organic solvents in the liver. I believe that people who spend a lot of time around organic solvents know this intuitively and use alcohol to block the harmful effects of other solvents they have been exposed to. I think this becomes habitual.
My parents did not drink when I was a kid, and they don’t really drink now. We always had really intellectual conversations. It made connecting with other kids kind of difficult, because they weren’t interested in the kinds of things I was. I did have a few friends who lived close by whose parents also did not drink alcohol, however, and we found lots of creative ways to spend our time. My parents have lived in the same house they bought before my birth in the 70s. We did a home remodel in the 80s which added two bedrooms, a bath, and a den/office to the upstairs of the previously 764 sq ft home, but other than that our exposures to construction chemicals were minimal at home. I recognize that some mental health problems my mother and I experienced were probably related to the exposure from getting the second story, in retrospect, but we also both have erythropoetic protoporphyria and were exposed to a lot of fluorescent lighting in the educational system where she worked and I went to school, which is very toxic for someone with these defects in hematopoesis, but actually bad for anyone.
I do not feel like I had alcoholism. I had a friend who was an alcoholic, and she subscribed to the belief that the best way to get rid of a hangover was another drink. I connected alcohol with feeling poorly early on in college, so bouts of heavy drinking were infrequent. As a young person, I never drank on weeknights, and that is probably a big reason I was able to graduate from college in three years. Alcohol is a time suck. It doesn’t make most people more creative. I’ve had ancestors on both sides of this issue; on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, my third great-grandmother was head of the local Ladies’ Temperance League. However, on my father’s paternal side of the family, a great-grand aunt stood trial for impersonating a military office and bootlegging in the 1910’s. My grandfathers were both alcoholics, and this is why my parents did not drink. They were very clear to my sister and I about that. The only alcohol we ever had at the house was a bottle of cherry kirsch that my mom had to buy to make some special recipe for a pot luck at church. In junior high they went to Las Vegas on a trip together and left my sister and I alone, so I invited my friends over, and we converted that kirsch into water, and my parents were none the wiser.
That being said, I decided to completely abstain from alcohol in 2019. We had some friends we would hang out with downtown, sometimes weekly. It felt a little bit like being in college. A few years earlier, whenever I had red wine I would wake up in the middle of the night with cardiac arrhythmias, which I think was from the estrogenic effect of the resveratrol. I had to stop drinking beer because of my intolerance to whole grains several years before that. So all that was left was sake and hard alcohol, minus gin, because I have a juniper allergy. Hanging out with these friends was really expensive, and although these shenanigans didn’t last long, I’m glad my kids got to be there for them, because we were always concerned with being responsible about driving and were honest about our level of intoxication, and taking care of each other. Hanging out with them felt very bohemian, part of a relaxed lifestyle, but I know that even though we are not speaking directly with those friends anymore, they also know the alcohol was an extremely bad thing for our health, because they are dealing with the serious consequences of keeping up that lifestyle.
So in those years of staying put, my parents developed a lot of community connections. When I got older, it seemed like all of a sudden people liked to tell me their secrets. I am told I have one of those faces (dimples, boobs). I know a lot of people’s secrets. It’s kind of why I started being vulnerable, because it was freeing to me to hear that other people were struggling with similar problems in their lives, and I wanted to help others feel less alone. I realized that people’s secrets were what kept them enslaved to patterns of self hatred and fear. I don’t want to share anyone else’s secrets. I’ll tell you why. Opening up about your own secrets is liberating. Having someone else reveal them for you is painful. We all make mistakes; that is the nature of life and learning. Unfortunately I have had to share some other people’s secrets to illustrate my points. I have tried to confine that to people in my family, and when I haven’t been able to, I tried to be vague so that the person wouldn’t be easily identifiable by our social circle.
I once spanked my daughter. I hated myself for it. She was four and I was tired and asked her to leave me alone. Neither one of us were ourselves when this happened. Knowing what I know now, it happened in the fall, and I am pretty sure our water heater was backdrafting. It was a lot like the story “Bad Luck Cabin” on The Love Boat, Season 6, episode 29, where every honeymoon couple who stays in it ends up arguing and breaking up. We may have been breathing methane, for all I know. I also know since I got my air quality meters that the CO2 level gets too high in my house, which can interfere with consciousness. That problem is probably pretty common, because modern houses are made to be air-tight in order to conserve heating and cooling costs. Anyway, I read a lot about the harm that physical punishment does to children, and I did not want to do it myself, so I am ashamed that I failed in that respect.
We all do things that we think are a good idea at the time and are later embarrassed about, even those of us without tattoos. I have spent a lot of time trying to dissect family trauma in order to better understand my own mental health issues. If you have found my blog because you are a DNA cousin match and want to know more about the family, there are a few things you need to know. The kits I administer match a lot of adoptees. The big punchline I got from studying genealogy is that “traditional family structure” is kind of a joke. And everyone’ s family has horny people in it who have trouble with fidelity. I have a whole family line on my Dad's side of people from Ireland who should have been from Germany according to the records we have. The connection to Ireland is inscrutable from the second cousin matches on this line which are probably due to an adoption in the late 1800’s in Pennsylvania before adoption records were kept, or some marital infidelity between our ancestors. I also have a fair number of interesting stories about the ways our family members were fighting the system, and the hardships they may have endured due to their sometimes non-traditional family structures, or ways they were seen as different. I found people who were activists, and also that several of my male ancestors were Freemasons or Odd Fellows.
I think there were a lot of gifted people in my family. It can be hard for intelligent people to get along with others. I was just reading in the book Gifted Grownups about how dark personality traits can be cultivated during childhood through the encouragement of academic potential while ignoring the emotional and spiritual side of life. Intelligent people need an outlet for their creativity, and if they do not get it, they will find harmful ways to use that intelligence. I think that is why fraternal orders have been useful to help direct intelligent men (and sometimes women) to use their abilities for good. I am thankful that I had opportunities to interact with the Freemasons and Optimists in my childhood; it was certainly good to see that there were secular organizations established for cultivating the good in themselves, even though I am wary of cults.
Working on genealogy, I run into a lot of people who seem like they just want to know if they are related to anyone famous, and it's funny because my favorite genealogical finds are the infamous ones. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone related to Charlamagne or Genghis Khan, so I really don’t find that particularly special or interesting. What’s interesting is that these tantalizing high profile connections are usually through infidelity, but people who like to tout these connections don’t often reveal that side. I won't tell the secrets of the living, but the dead are fair game. Some people worry about this, but I think it’s important to understand that our ancestors were human beings who made mistakes that impacted the future, and that some of them were victims of a broken system. Hiding these stories is a missed opportunity to see how our ancestors coped with the challenges presented to them. If we don’t address the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them in the future. I try to be objective in my analysis of the societal pressures on my ancestors in terms of cultural norms.
I did not find, so far, much evidence for significant wealth in my family history, with the pretty important exception that my father’s mother’s family were related to the Dutch Brouwers who colonized the land that became Trinity Church on Wall Street in Manhattan. My ancestor who was a member of the Temperance League was a Brouwer descendant.
I am interested in the stories of my ancestors' siblings who chose not to reproduce or live in traditional family structures. A lot of my father’s family came from New York in the areas where there were many utopian living experiments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the course of the pandemic, my attention was brought to several instances of important romantic relationships outside marriage, which were not preserved in our family memories. I once tried to interest a close family member in what I had found about her family, and she said she would be more interested if I knew more about who the people actually were - what they thought and their interests - these are things we typically only learn with significant effort, unless people have taken time to make written records such as journals. So I would think that maybe this person might want to think about that for the future, since she also told her mother that she didn’t want to be the person to curate that stuff. I think she was hoping for stories about freedom fighting, but when your ancestors were farmers, the stories can be pretty boring, or at least centered around just trying to keep one’s crop going in the middle of the dust bowl, which is still fighting for freedom. We have some records to that extent from her 2nd great-grandmother, and if she took the time to read them, I think she would see that the 1950’s suburban life really was like Shangri-La, compared to that of being a farmer’s or minister’s wife where the exciting thing of the week was having enough blueberries to bake a pie, which that side of the family loves to glorify. Freedom is in the eye of the beholder, and whether urban or rural, it is still important. Everyone played a role in getting where we are today, whether it was a boring or exciting one, and also whether it was noticed or not.
I am also interested in the story of how our genetics made our ancestors more vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the TB epidemic and the Great Depression. My grandmother lost a sibling to the flu. Furthermore, I am interested in the role that alcohol played in the life choices of my ancestors, and also occupational exposures to toxins. This information can be found in some of my other writing.
Sometimes stories of people I have known but am not related to are relevant, and so I will do my best to anonymize any information I present in a respectful way, if I can’t find a vague way to share it. I'm fortunate that the people I know don't really know each other very well. But my story is a web, my consciousness being constantly affected by the words and choices of people around me, and it is necessary.
And that gets to the heart of the matter. I considered myself somewhat of a people matchmaker once upon a time. I could never quite figure out why I could get along with others, but they couldn't get along with each other. It seemed to me that people generally had similar struggles and interests, but were too busy to connect with others. I felt like if people could connect, some of their struggles would go away, but I could never get people to be as interested in having friendships with each other as they were in spending time with me, and maybe they were offended thinking I was trying to pass them off on other people. That was not the case - it was always one of those things like, “Hey, peanut butter and chocolate!” I felt like peoples’ reluctance to trust each other was keeping us from collaborating on anything that would create any lasting change in our lives or community. Like we were just all talk and no action. I really do think, though, that we were all tired from family trauma, work, and the toxins in our food and environment. A lot of people I knew were aware of these things on some level, and did things that made their lives a little more conscious, without knowing how truly important what they did was.
If you're a cousin, I'm writing this for you, because our family has been dealing with hidden health problems forever which are relevant to what is going on in the world right now with respect to the COVID pandemic. In this polluted, busy world, our health requires more attention. On my father's side of the family I have outlived 3 cousins, maybe for this reason. We have some traits of classical autism. Alcohol may have been involved in the deaths of 2 of these cousins. Smoking and alcohol played important roles in my grandparents' stories. We don't communicate well with each other, and we never really have. While we didn’t lose anyone young on my mother’s side of the family, there were still problems with family communications and addiction. Both my husband and I had grandparents who were orphaned as children around the time of the Great Depression. So all this stuff going on in the world has not only been relevant to my personal and professional history, but also to the generational trauma in my family.
My mom's side of the family is complicated. I found a book The Way We Never Were which is a sociological exploration of the myth of the nuclear American household. I feel like that's probably the best way to describe it. My mother's father was just a teen when she was born, so she was adopted by her grandmother and step-grandfather. Her grandfather had committed suicide when her mother was just 8 years old. Finding this out was one of those shocking moments I'll never forget. We had always been told that he died of tuberculosis (or tuberkilliosis, as my daughter who now has a deadpan sense of humor said as a child), but when his death certificate came, it reported the cause of death as a revolver shot to the head. As far as I can tell, he suffered from TB for at least six years, and apparently it was very difficult for someone with an active TB infection to get work. My great-grandmother was supporting the family as a book binder, and I think her mother had been helping around the house and taking care of my grandmother.
I saw that the vlogbrothers channel on YouTube has raised over $25M USD to build a teaching hospital in Sierra Leone. In the last video John did, he talked about the importance of access to hospitals and healthcare. I have not really had that kind of access. When we have acute health problems, it has almost always been on a Friday evening and I need to carefully weigh the cost of waiting vs. paying at least $1000 for an ER visit, since urgent care is not open at this time. I know things always happen on Fridays because of all the stress going on the rest of the week, so it annoys me that we do not have better solutions in our community which respond to the actual times when people tend to have incidents, rather than further gouging them for modern misfortune.
The news of my great-grandfather’s suicide was a shock to the whole family, because we had been told that he died of TB. Around the time I made that discovery, I also learned that my paternal grandfather had gone AWOL in the Philippines while in the Merchant Marines. I have some notes from my uncle that I still need to transcribe about this experience. My paternal grandfather and his sister were also orphaned when their mother left their father. I haven't been able to figure out for certain what happened to her, but supposedly she had Tuberculosis as well. I was able to find my great Aunt by using DNA testing, but my cousin doesn’t really know what happened, either, and had been surprised to hear that my grandfather’s sister had been in an orphanage. Additionally, sometime after my grandmother’s sister died of influenza, her father disappeared. The family was told that he died, but it turns out he was living with another woman and her son. So, you know, some people move on.
My understanding is that communication isn't great on my mother's side of the family, either. I think I understand why this is, and I think it may be genetic. We have a lot of metabolic challenges in the form of invisible illness. Through my mom's side of the family, I inherited the cystic fibrosis deltaF508 polymorphism. When I am not doing well, I have a lot of subclinical manifestations of CF. I think it causes my ears and sinuses to plug more easily, also making it harder to breathe. If I have chemical exposures or excessive stress, or do something silly like ovulate or menstruate, I tend to have issues with mucus. I'm also prone to issues with cystic tissues. I get reflux easily, and other conditions often suffered by carriers. I have a really sensitive stomach, so I don’t appreciate people meddling in my food choices. There is a quick test to diagnose Cystic Fibrosis which involves holding the hands in warm water and seeing how long it takes for them to prune (aquagenic wrinkling of the palms). In a non-carrier, it takes about 14 minutes, and for a carrier it takes about 7 minutes, and in a person with full-blown CF, it takes 2-3 minutes. For me, a heterozygous carrier (and I do not know if I have any other minor mutations), it takes about 7 minutes, and that is what first alerted me to the fact that Mendel’s theories might be bunk. Note that I have not been able to get my healthcare providers to take my carrier status seriously, and even though a child in my family had a positive neonatal test, no interest has been shown by my family in understanding the importance of how CF deranges the metabolism of unsaturated fats, or how that may affect the development of fibroses.
Cystic Fibrosis isn’t what many people think. Besides creating problems with mucus (it is also called mucoviscoidosis), it is a general tendency to develop fibrosis in organs. It causes deficiencies in digestive enzyme production, and impairs the ability to absorb fat soluble vitamins.
I recently learned that I have several polymorphisms in KCNJ5, which is a potassium channel. These are apparently rare and cause Familial Hyperaldosteronism Type III. I suspect they might be important in hearing loss. Hyperaldosteronism makes a person naturally a little more stressed out. I am finding that supplementing potassium is helping greatly. This type of Hyperaldosteronism is associated with dangerously low levels of potassium, especially when taking diuretics. I think the low potassium was causing some of my COVID symptoms. Low potassium was a problem for my maternal great-grandmother. I have not taken the time to figure out which polymorphisms I got from which parent, but both of my parents and my sister developed hypokalemia from their diuretic formulations, and hearing loss runs on both sides of the family, so it wouldn’t hurt to talk to your doctor about this if you recognize yourself having any symptoms, like too much testosterone.
I developed dangerous hypokalemia multiple times. It is no fun. Definitely check out the symptoms. It’s strange to know so many years later that I have those particular polymorphisms; I had low potassium after taking hydrochlorothiazide for pregnancy-induced hypertension for 9 months. At the time I was having a lot of the same problems with aphasia and visual migraines. I was also being poisoned by detergent from a dryer vent not being properly hooked to the outside of an apartment we were in temporarily. I am technically not supposed to use my consumer genetics kits the way I do. The FDA has not approved their use for such things. But without this information I would still be stumbling with respect to how to improve my health. I think it should be easier to have these tests validated.
The things I have found are potentially severe metabolic diseases and affect how I would be treated in an emergency in a hospital because they can cause reactions to medication. This may be why I bottomed out during anesthesia and after IV diphenhydramine. I know at least one other person who found they were likely a carrier of a severe metabolic disease which would be part of newborn screening now through consumer genetics testing and third party tools, but she has not had it verified. It doesn’t make sense that we pay these companies for their service and in the process give away our rights and our information without having some sort of useful results for the risks we took in participating in their research that we funded, and putting our cousins at risk of arrest. Cousins, this is your warning not to kill people.
I also inherited several polymorphisms in a calcium channel subunit, CACNA1D, which causes Primary Aldosteronism with Seizures and Other Neurological Abnormalities. I'm not sure which parent I got this from, either, but my husband also has it and I suspect it is part of the reason we have so many precognitive experiences. Or are prone to hypnogogic states? I think we are electrophysiologically prone to whatever it is.
Dopamine is an important antagonist to aldosterone. So this is a way that workaholism can be particularly bad for people in my family. My family member who does not know how to slow down has issues with high aldosterone.
If you're related to me on my mom's side, you need to know that she inherited two copies of a polymorphism in ferrochelatase which causes a rare disease called erythropoietic protoporphyria, which causes porphyrins to build up in the body when exposed to ultraviolet light. Melanin and beta carotene have been shown to be protective. I was able to get my carrier status validated through Invitae Genetics for a lot less than it would have been to have a porphyria panel run elsewhere. I do not have the skin blistering that some people with this rare disease get, and neither does my mother, even though she has two copies. I believe this is because we are hispanic. I always tanned easily, but as I have gotten older I make less melanin. I get a lot of epigastric pain. I take cimetidine on occasion, which is effective for some types of porphyria, and it seems to help me with mine. Some people find relief with charcoal, and this is yet another reason I take charcoal, besides trying to keep the excess gut serotonin down. Serotonin is primarily produced in the appendix through the fermentive action of gut bacteria. A lot of people don’t understand that this is what causes nausea, and that the expensive anti-nausea drug ondansetron is a serotonin receptor blocker. Instead, we take things to increase serotonin in this country, and wonder why we have an anxiety epidemic. (Please read about Serotonin Syndrome).
For the type of porphyria I have, it is possible to see red/orange fluorescence on the skin and around the gum line on the teeth with a UV lamp. While there are people in my family dubious about the vampirism, or about being a carrier being enough to manifest any signs of the disease, I have these positive signs when I look at my skin and teeth with a UV lamp. That being said, it is important to limit one’s exposure to UV, because that is what causes the disease. I think there is actually feedback between my different illnesses, so triggering one, like erythropoetic protoporphyria, can cause me to have digestive issues, which then can impact the cystic fibrosis, which causes changes in gut flora, which affects my cognitive function. It’s quite a tangled web. Cortisol produced from stress to local tissues can then increase aldosterone. It would make a person sort of anxiety-prone, if you know what I mean. And exposing them to more sun, vegetable oil, stress and chemicals would be torture to that person. Giving them extra fiber for gut problems is only likely to make them develop diverticuli, but that’s what modern medicine suggests for some of the gut symptoms I get. Furthermore, fillers approved by the FDA like cellulose, gums, carrageenan and silica create misery. The latter two are used by researchers to cause pain and autoimmune disease in animals respectively, so I do not understand why we would say these are okay for anyone in the population, let alone snowflakes like me. I am surely not living a “free life” when I have to be concerned that these monsters are in most convenience foods. Thanks for having my back again, Government. NOT.
I also learned recently that I carry several polymorphisms associated with von Willebrand Type I. I was hoping to get this confirmed with a hematologist, soon, but I am in the process of applying for Medicaid and it is my understanding that it is extremely difficult to get the government to approve visits to specialists. I do not know which parent I inherited these from, either, but it turns out this was a particular liability (unlike Cystic Fibrosis) for COVID patients. I found this out just in time, I feel, because it is a type of mild hemophilia. I also have coumadin sensitivity, which besides the Cystic Fibrosis was the only significant thing my consumer genetics test was allowed to report to me. Coumadin sensitivity is conferred by polymorphisms in vitamin K epoxide reductase, which is what converts the vitamin K1 to the active form, vitamin K2, which is important for proper blood clotting. People with this metabolic issue may also be sensitive to aspirin, and cannot tolerate large amounts of vitamin E, both of which I was taking, because I figured if I took enough K2 it would be alright, but I am not sure if it was enough to account for the von Willebrand. When I was younger, before we moved into this home and I stopped using so many polyunsaturates (which are high in vitamin E), I had really heavy periods. When I was a kid I had a lot of nose bleeds, and so did both my kids.
Besides not being able to tolerate aspirin without sufficient vitamin K2 to balance it, I could precipitate migraine by overuse of the cinnamon which is used in most products in the US, which is cassia cinnamon. It is high in a compound called coumarin, which is a natural analog of the blood thinner coumadin. One of my kids got petechiae easily, and my sister and I have had them, too. My son was really sensitive to food additives as a kid, and I was curious if a low-salicylate diet might be advantageous for him. To test my theory, I gave him five wintergreen mints, and he developed a big rash around his neck and throat. For a few years after that, I used a low-salicylate diet, and when I learned about vitamin K2, we started taking it regularly. My kids had mild pectus excavatum when we first moved into this house, but it resolved with K2, which makes sense because K2 is critical for bone mineralization, too, not just blood clotting. Years later a friend gave us some homemade birchbark beer (it’s a soda, not alcoholic), and my daughter became violently ill for a week. A similar thing happened when we went on a family trip to Vegas to see the museums. My parents had a time share after the aforementioned trip, and we were not really casino goers, but went because my parents also used to live there, so I felt like I had to take my kids to see the things I loved there once. I bought a big back of wintergreen mints because I wanted to share with my kids how they spark in the dark, and my daughter had too many. It doesn’t matter how nice the hotel bathroom is when it is covered in diarrhea and vomit.
So anyway, I use true cinnamon in the house, which is Ceylon Cinnamon and doesn’t have coumarin. And that helps me avoid migraine, usually. Vitamin K2 can help me tolerate the other cinnamon, but it’s just better if I can eat foods which don’t increase my need for other interventions. (Hospital food, I’m looking at you).
Anyway, these things are all diseases that wouldn’t play well with alcohol or toxins, especially in terms of glitchiness. Frequent remodeling is probably a bad idea, as is lots of stress. So if you’re my cousin, and you’ve been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, or struggle with depression, it might be helpful to look into these health conditions. They are things that might come and go and might be difficult for a doctor to find easily without a heads up, but knowing about them and how one’s lifestyle might need to be adjusted may relieve quite a bit of stress and anxiety.