Prenatal  factors such as exposure to stress hormones, microbiome imprints, and genetic variances can all impact one’s “nervous predisposition.” Thankfully, there are things you can do about it.

She's a loving mom

It’s been one full week since the release of BreakFree Medicine, and the support and feedback has been amazing! My gratitude for all of you “runneth over.” Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for supporting my mission to empower as many people as possible to live their healthiest lives through the best of naturopathic, functional, and conventional medicine.

I’ve recently been studying more about how stress and perceptions are a key player in health and healing. In fact, a 2013 article in JAMA Internal Medicine estimates that 60-80% of doctor’s office visits have stress as a key component.

Last week I discussed the different factors that determine how our bodies respond to stress. I also reviewed the impact that stress has on every body system. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate the negative effects of stress through mindfulness practices, essential oils, and other lifestyle modifications.

In this blog, I want to focus a little more on the importance of being aware of how you may be “hardwired for stress” and how you may be able to shift your perception for a healthier response.

As mentioned, exposure prenatally to mom’s stress hormones and early life experiences have an impact on how one’s brain develops and the resultant effect on response to stressors. Furthermore, microbiome imprint and one’s genetic ability to excrete stress hormones (such as a methylation or COMT SNP) also influence someone’s reactionary patterns.

It’s true that these are factors which someone can’t control prior to birth. However, if you are aware that you are “hardwired” to be more “nervous,” the importance of a regular stress modulation practice is imperative. For example, it is known that early adverse life experiences are linked to addictions and mental disorders due to the impact of stress on the forming brain. One study reports:

A small but growing literature with human populations has established that prenatal exposure to elevated levels of maternal stress is associated with behavioral and emotional disturbances during infancy and childhood, after controlling for postpartum maternal psychological distress, including postpartum depression (Bergman, Sarkar, O’Connor, Modi, & Glover, 2007; Davis et al., 2007; Davis, Snidman et al., 2004; Gutteling et al., 2005; Huizink, De Medina, Mulder, Visser, & Buitelaar, 2002; O’Connor, Heron, & Glover, 2002).


Still, knowing that your mother was very stressed when you were a tiny fetus in her belly can help you understand your nervous response patterns, and then you can also do something about it. This can be as simple as physical activity and social support, according to one article:

Early life events influence life-long patterns of emotionality and stress responsiveness and alter the rate of brain and body aging. The hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex undergo stress-induced structural remodeling, which alters behavioral and physiological responses. As an adjunct to pharmaceutical therapy, social and behavioral interventions such as regular physical activity and social support reduce the chronic stress burden and benefit brain and body health and resilience.

This same article continues (bold emphasis mine):

Because the brain is the central organ of the stress response, it is a primary target for interventions intended to reduce the burden of chronic stress, as defined by the concept of allostatic load and overload. In general, brain-centered interventions are very familiar in everyday life. They involve changing behavior and life-style, for example, by improving sleep quality and quantity, improving social support, and cultivating a positive outlook on life, along with maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and engaging in regular, moderate physical activity.

These types of changes are usually more easily said than done. Yet, policies of government and the private sector can play a major role in promoting this, as they have done for smoking cessation and wearing of seat belts in automobiles, by creating incentives at home and in work situations and also by building community services and opportunities that encourage the development of beneficial individual life-styles.


The impact of our microbiome in mom’s belly also can affect our stress response. According to one study:

Perturbations in the prenatal and early life environment can contribute to the development of offspring stress dysregulation, a pervasive symptom in neuropsychiatric disease. Interestingly, the vertical transmission of maternal microbes to offspring and the subsequent bacterial colonization of the neonatal gut overlap with a critical period of brain development. Therefore, environmental factors such as maternal stress that are able to alter microbial populations and their transmission can thereby shape offspring neurodevelopment. As the neonatal gastrointestinal tract is primarily inoculated at parturition through the ingestion of maternal vaginal microflora, disruption in the vaginal ecosystem may have important implications for offspring neurodevelopment and disease risk. Here, we discuss alterations that occur in the vaginal microbiome following maternal insult and the subsequent effects on bacterial assembly of the neonate gut, the production of neuromodulatory metabolites, and the developmental course of stress regulation.


Finally, genetic variances in enzymes that effect neurotransmitters also impact emotional responses. For example, the Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is one enzyme that helps to degrade catecholamines (dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine).  Consider the fact that if someone can’t “clear out” these stress neurotransmitters very well, they may be more “on the edge” and anxious than someone else who has a fast metabolism for degrading stress molecules. One study reports:

Although heritable influences account for a significant degree of variation in risk for such disorders, relatively few candidate susceptibility factors have been identified. A coding variant in one such gene, encoding the dopamine catabolic enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT Val158Met), has previously been associated with anxiety and with anxiety-related temperament and altered neural responses to affective stimuli in healthy individuals.


Therefore, someone who has some mood or anxiety issues may find a genetic analysis helpful if they aren’t getting anywhere with lifestyle modifications. They may need specific nutrients to help clear these catecholamines as well as regular exercise and…………you may not do so great on coffee. Sorry!


Another way to mitigate stress is the power of perception. I touched upon this a little bit last week, but here’s an expansion.


BreakFree Medicine

A Little BreakFree Medicine  Update:

Next week, I’ll be announcing the winner for a free spot on my upcoming teleseminar course. In case you didn’t know, the first 100 people to order the book and send me a copy of their receipt are all part of the drawing. However, I decided to extend the number and am allowing anyone to enter by Friday, so there is still time if you want to send me your receipt. The first 100 people will have a bit of an advantage though, as I’m weighting them more heavily in the drawing. 







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American Psychological Association. Stress Effects on the Body.

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Jašarevi? E, Howerton CL, Howard CD, Bale TL. Alterations in the Vaginal Microbiome by Maternal Stress Are Associated With Metabolic Reprogramming of the Offspring Gut and Brain. Endocrinology, June 2015 DOI: 10.1210/en.2015-1177

Deans E. The Gut-Brain Connection, Mental Illness, and Disease: Psychobiotics, immunology, and the theory of all chronic disease. Psychology Today. April 6, 2014

Stein MB, Fallin MD, Schork N, Gelernter J. COMT Polymorphisms and Anxiety-Related Personality Traits Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005: 30, 2092–2102. doi:10.1038/sj.npp.1300787.

Montag C, Buckholtz JW, Hartmann P, Merz M, Burk C, Hennig J, Reuter M. COMT genetic variation affects fear processing: psychophysiological evidence.  Behav Neurosci. 2008 Aug;122(4):901-9. doi: 10.1037/0735-7044.122.4.901.