MAOA and the Four Cornerstones of Epigenetics

Seems many posts lately have been written in some odd code - ALDH, MTHFR, MAOA.  It's like a can of Alphabet Soup went wacky.  Actually, it's more nerdy than that.  We've been talking about actual biochemical genetics.  All of the genes we've discussed are in your body and you can test to find out your unique results.  

But who cares about genetics if they are truly "genetics"?  Those don't change, right?

That's right.  We don't change our actual genetics, but we can impact how those genetics actually function.  

I like to think of many of the genes I use in clinic and coaching as dimmable light-switches.  The choices you make can make them brighter (work faster) or dimmer (work more slowly).  And every little change made impacts your overall health.  That is the basic idea of epigenetics.

You truly are more in control of your health - including food sensitivities - than you may feel.  

The Four Cornerstones of Epigenetics - Your Choices

While there are many decisions and choices that impact epigenetics, let's focus on what I call the Four Cornerstones of Epigenetics - Sleep, Stress Management, Environmental Exposures, and Food Choices.  

And since we've been working through many genes/enzymes which help your body clear histamine…because we are all dealing with histamine intolerance and food sensitivities!...let's be specific about the epigenetics for one gene.  

Eeny meeny miny moe…I choose MAOA.  (This is one of my favorites because it impacts so much - histamine, dopamine, epinephrine, serotonin, and more!)  And let's go cornerstone by cornerstone.

The First Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Sleep 

We hear a lot about the importance of sleep and how many hours you get each night.  But what about your sleep environment?  Research shows a sleep environment in a noisy area will create more work for MAOA because you don't rest well and your body makes more catecholamines (stress hormones).  

Depending on how your MAOA is genetically coded, it may be able to manage the added work of clearing epinephrine and norepinephrine (in the dopamine pathway) but if it is already working hard to clear histamine from your body, it will struggle.  And when it struggles, everything backs up and you end up with symptoms like food reactivity, heightened allergies, and anxiety, among others.  

Who knew sleep and where you sleep would actually have a direct impact on your food sensitivities??!

The Second Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Stress Management

You'll likely notice a little overlap here with Sleep - any situation that increases your stress response will eventually make MAOA work harder.  (Ever feel like your stress makes your sensitivities or allergies worse?!)

One of the jobs of MAOA is to clear epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenalin and noradrenalin).  When you're chronically stressed, levels of these hormones stay elevated and may occupy MAOA to the extent it cannot help with histamine or some of its other jobs.  

It's all a balancing act…and MAOA multitasks like a pro!  

The Third Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Environmental Exposures

MAOA help your body clear compounds called amines.  These can be found in just about any environment because of vehicle and industrial emissions, smoking and second-hand smoke exposure, and pesticides.  And that's just the start. 

Looking for the various ways we are exposed to different chemicals and compounds which affect our genetics can be a little overwhelming - because they are everywhere.  The goal really becomes decreasing exposures when you can and then supporting the genes/enzymes with the other cornerstones.  

For MAOA, spend time in green spaces where industry and vehicles are less common.  Avoid places where folks smoke.  And then be mindful with your food choices…

The Fourth Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Food Choices

The thing those of us with food sensitivities spend the most time thinking about - what to eat.  We know MAOA helps clear histamine.  Histamine is a biologic amine (the name gives us a clue and this ties in with Environmental Exposures) which is naturally in the foods we eat.  That's one reason why so many coaches and providers talk about a low-histamine diet; we want to decrease the load on all of the histamine genes, including MAOA.

But keep in mind there are other biogenic amines which cross-react with histamine.  The most common is tyramine which is found in aged cheeses, wines and other really yummy things.

When doing a low-histamine diet, you may also be asked to avoid tyramine foods.  Need some help with that? Take a look at the Food Intolerances app.  More info here.  

Look for Patterns and Plan for the Cornerstones!

That's the big work of figuring out some of the epigenetics or the lifestyle changes you can make that really change your health because you're changing how your genetics function!  The easier part now is to look for patterns and how you can make 1 or 2 changes that will impact all of the cornerstones.  

For a really busy and overworked MAOA (which is likely part of your food sensitivity story), you might consider taking a walk in (or switching where you walk/run to) a wonderfully green space 5-6 times a week (helps with stress and environmental exposures), use insulating curtains on your bedroom windows to help block out lights and noises from outside (helps with sleep and stress) and consider cutting out tyramine-rich foods if you enjoy them frequently (food choices) for 2-3 weeks and see how things change for you.  

Or maybe those just don't work for you.  That's cool.  Find your own way to address the four cornerstones for MAOA and you'll be helping your body do what it was built to do - maintain balance!

Sixty-second Self-care Tip…

Using the concepts for each of the Four Cornerstones of Epigenetics, decide on two things you can change in your routine which will support at least three of the Cornerstones.  They don't have to be major overhauls.  Look for the easiest and most impactful change.

When you start making small changes in your routine with the cornerstones in mind, you will change your food reactivity and your overall health.  There are no right or wrong answers here…just what you can and will do to change your food sensitivities.

And that usually means small changes that make sense to you…and are easy to implement.  

You can do it!

This is frequently the kind of work that creates big questions because it all just seems so very big.  Take baby step by baby step…there is no rule about how big or how fast you make changes.  

In fact, the only rule is that you decide what works the best for you - stay true to you.  

If I can help, send me an email to  My eyes only and I'll get you some answers or ideas!


60-second self-care, epigenetics, histamine intolerance, MAOA, self-advocate, sleep, tyramine

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