Is There a Genetic Basis to Anxiety and Depression?

If you have been prone to anxiety and depression most of your life, and especially if it runs in your family history, then consider that you may have genetic predispositions to neurotransmitter imbalances. At the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine we test genetic predispositions for a variety of conditions, especially people prone to anxiety and depression.


Are These Genes Causing You Problems?

Are you familiar with a common genetic variation with the genes known as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) that makes people susceptible to depression? Studies show that a significant percent of the population have a variation in a gene known as MTHFR, and this gene controls an enzyme in all our cells that is involved in methylation, a chemical process that adds a carbon and 3 hydrogens onto other chemicals for life sustaining processes such as producing energy, allowing our DNA to work, making hormones, detoxification, and making neurotransmitters. When you have inherited one or two variations or bad copies, then the enzyme it makes, known as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, functions at a slower rate and you can have certain health problems. Research shows that people with these variations at MTHFR genes known as C677T and A1298C are more likely to have psychiatric diseases such as depression. For example, a meta-analysis involving 26 published studies concerning MTHFR polymorphism demonstrated “an obvious association of MTHFR C677T polymorphism with increased risk of depression.” This association was strongest in Asian populations.

When you have these MTHFR genetic variations, you cannot metabolize folic acid properly. Most people are surprised to find that folic acid is a synthetic or man-made B vitamin that you do not find in food. It is used since its cheap and does not degrade rapidly. It is best one gets the natural form, known as folate or methylfolate, found in foods such as spinach, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, peas, seafood, eggs, poultry, meat, and grains. One can also get folate or methylfolate in high quality supplements. Your body uses folate for the MTHFR enzyme to work properly in many ways, including making neurotransmitters such as serotonin. This is why folate supplementation can help people with depression, and especially when used with active B12 such as methylcobalamin.

If you are prone to anxiety, then be aware of inherited variations with the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene. This gene codes for the enzyme COMT enzyme which is involved in the breakdown of stress chemicals in the body known as catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine). You can see how higher levels of these catecholamines lead to feelings of anxiety for some people. Support with magnesium, B complex, and molybdenum can be helpful.

Dr. Mark Stengler NMD, MS, is a bestselling author in private practice in Encinitas, California, at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine. His newsletter, Dr. Stengler’s Health Breakthroughs, is available at His clinic website is