Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Personality - tendencies versus exhibited traits

Figuring out what makes someone tick is a fascinating past-time, especially figuring out yourself.  Some of the learning/personality tests/sorters I've investigated are: the corporate standby MBTI/Keirsey (INTJ), the academic favorite Five Factor (moderately-high Openness, moderately Conscientious, low Extraversion, low Agreeableness, high Neuroticism), the educator beloved Multiple Intelligences (Logical/Mathematical & Intrapersonal, followed closely by Verbal/Linguistic), the adult learning go-to Kolb Learning Style Inventory (Convergent), the not so known Ansir (Eccentrik thinker, Eccentrik worker, Visionary emoter), the clinical MMPI (results too complex for those not trained in interpreting it), and the mystic Enneagram (5 - Investigator).

My biggest problem with these tests is that some people see them as meaning your personality is carved in stone, despite the fact that research in human development shows that healthy personalities change over time and adapt to circumstances, even though the basic tendencies will still be evident at some level. An example given by David L. Guttman, in Reclaimed powers: Toward a new psychology of men and women in later life, is that men tend to become more nurturing as they age, while women become more assertive. Many researchers attribute this to cultural and health factors, which necessitate changes in their behaviors.

In simple terms, what I'm trying to say is that just because someone has a tendency towards being disagreeable, doesn't necessarily mean that they are always going to disagree or are unable to understand the importance of being agreeable.  It may mean that they have to consider the details more fully before they agree with something.  Or they may bite their tongues and agree for the sake of a more important goal.

As I stated in my last post, I found out that there have been some genes associated with certain personality traits, especially the Five Factor model. From Wikipedia's entry about this (retrieved 4/16/2014), the research shows that personality is only partially determined by genetics:
Twin studies suggest that heritability and environmental factors equally influence all five factors to the same degree. Among four recent twin studies, the mean percentage for heritability was calculated for each personality and it was concluded that heritability influenced the five factors broadly. The self-report measures were as follows: openness to experience was estimated to have a 57% genetic influence, extraversion 54%, conscientiousness 49%, neuroticism 48%, and agreeableness 42%.
(For you spelling purists, the academic/clinical/technical term is actually spelled "extraversion", not "extroversion". I know, it rubs against the grain.  But the original term was "extravert" and that is what is used in the Five Factors research.  "Extrovert" is an alternate version commonly used by the general populace. )

This first gene SNP is the one that made me search for personality results.  I was rather floored by the idea that my genes could influence my avoidance of errors and persistence, even though I've known for years that the genetic roots of personality were being researched. The bolding in the cited material has been added by me to highlight which aspects of the gene I am talking about.

Normal (A2/A2): Better avoidance of errors. Normal OCD risk, normal Tardive Diskinesia risk, lower ADHD risk. Less Alcohol dependence. Higher risk of Postoperative Nausea. Lower obesity. Bupropion is ... This DRD2 TaqIA A2/A2 version causes a normal amount of Dopamine Receptors. Learns from mistakes more easily. Men may have a higher risk of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but lower risk of ADHD. Women have higher Persistence. Higher risk of Tardive Diskinesia when taking dopamine receptor antagonists. Lower risk of alcoholism and smoking addiction. Faster recovery from traumatic brain injury. 1.6x risk of early postoperative nausea within 6 hours of surgery. Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Budeprion, Prexaton, Elontril, Aplenzin, Zyban, Voxra) works to quit smoking. Lower obesity due to increased pleasure response to food.
I've started with this SNP, not only because it was the first personality gene I came across on my report, but as a matter of transparency in regards to my beliefs in the control we have over our own behavior.  It has occurred to me that part of the reason I so firmly believe that I can modify my own behavior is because I am genetically primed for the persistence it takes to do it.  That's not to say that I don't have other genetic and environmental factors that get in the way.  It's hard to persist in something when you're depressed and/or in pain - and there's a lot to be said for choosing your battles.  So, my apologies if I sound too gun-ho to those who must struggle harder with this things, along with my utmost respect for those who have managed behavioral changes despite the lack of this SNP to help them.

Probably the best example I can give of my persistence is something that happened back when I was a QA lab technician.  Because of my computer background and skills, I did a lot of the programming in my department.  One day a manager from another department told me that I programmed weirdly.  I turned from my monitor and asked him what he meant by that.  He said, "If you can't program straight through a problem, you don't let it stop you. You either program your way over it, around it, or tunnel underneath it."  I looked at him as if he had grown two more heads, because as far as I was concerned that's the way you're supposed to solve problems. And if all else fails, there's always C4. (I suspect both Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters have a similar gene.)

You have a SNP in the oxytocin receptor which may make you less empathetic than most people. When under stress you may have more difficulty recognizing the emotional state of others which impacts loneliness, parenting, and socializing skills.
Some studies have suggested that the A;G genotype is associated with an intermediate level of empathy (compared to the G;G and A;A genotypes), although most report that A;G and A;A individuals have similar levels of empathy and stress handling capabilities.
I highlighted the "may" because a few friends protested against the idea that I am anything but empathetic.  Even I was a little bit surprised by this, but then I realized that empathy is a skill I actively work for and it wears me out after a while, even though on the surface, I appear to be all sorts of touchy-feeling.

Going back to the main rs53576 article in SNPedia, we find this reference:
[PMID 19015103] This study examined the association between the OXTR gene and parenting. A total of 176 mothers of toddlers were included in the study. After controlling for marital discord, depression, and education status, rs53576 was found to significantly correlate with parenting, with the G;G genotype being associated with a significantly more sensitive parenting style than A;A or A;G genotypes. However, they concluded that the major factor influencing parenting was the maternal education level.
At the moment I work in a position where my ability to be empathetic is tracked and enforced, increasing my skill in that area.  I work at it because I recognize its importance in my daily life.  However, it is something I have to make an effort for when I am under stress or distracted.  But then Daniel Goleman states in his TED talk that the most important factor in determining whether or not someone will act like a good Samaritan (which requires empathy) is if whether or not they feel rushed. At work I manage this "rushed" aspect by making sure I ground myself between customers, using my acquired knowledge from my behavioral studies.

less-efficient serotonin processing; increased susceptibility to novelty seeking
I can see this.  I like keeping my mind busy.  However, I don’t usually seek novelty in social engagements as tested in the Big Five personality test.  Which is rather amusing when you realize how diverse and eclectic my friends are.  While this gene SNP is not directly linked to openness in Five Factor (or Big Five) Personality test (which I score between normal and high on) I would think that someone who was susceptible to novelty seeking, would also be open to new experiences.  When I got my report rs644148(T;T) was also listed as a possible indicator of openness, but the research on it is not conclusive at the moment due to lack of sampling.

That "normal" looks pretty uninformative until you compare it to rs1611115(T:T):
Personality disorder patients carrying the DBH TT genotype exhibited higher neuroticism and novelty seeking scores as compared to individuals with the (C;C) or (C;T) genotype. Analyses on the level of the neuroticism and novelty seeking subscales revealed that the DBH (T;T) genotype was primarily associated with personality features related to impulsiveness and aggressive hostility. Also adult ADHD patients carrying the homozygous (T;T) genotypes displayed by significantly increased neuroticism scores; when both personality disorder and adult ADHD patient were analyzed together, (T;T) carriers also displayed by significantly lower conscientiousness levels. [PMID 18982239]
I'm guessing this is why I score as average on conscientiousness on the Five Factor test. rs35753505(C;T) doesn't have a real entry to itself yet, but [PMID 18455369] says that "C allele carriers associated with higher (NEO-FFI) scores of neuroticism and lower scores of conscientiousness in a sample of 523 healthy individuals." Yet another case of me only having one allele for lower conscientiousness. It's a good thing that I have rs1800497(C;C) working for me - and I understand the need for conscientiousness.

My DNA test could only genotype one extraversion gene SNP - rs1800544(C;G)
[PMID 17894416] (Estonian Children Personality Behavior and Health Study subset, n = 419) GG genotype carriers had significantly higher scores on an assessment of depression, and significantly lower scores on morality and orderliness compared to CC carriers. girls with CC and CG genotypes scored higher than boys with the same genotypes on an assessment of extraversion. boys with GG genotypes, however, scored higher than girls with GG genotypes.
So, I am more extraverted than a male version of myself would be. I could see the benefit of that in a society where women were gatherers and males were hunters. Like I said, the genotype on the other SNP (rs1801252) didn't come through, so I have no idea if they match my low extraversion results. I'm guessing that I may have the (A;G) genotype though, since glycine carriers show "increased odds of low or very low extraversion levels in this particular study" - [PMID 15312808] Of course, my introversion may be from other factors.

normal - genotypes A/A were significantly associated with agreeableness scores. 
Okay, I’m not the A/A genotype. Nor am I the A/C genotype, which since my test results has also been link to higher agreeableness scores. So, it’s not surprising that I always test as Low Agreeableness on the Big Five Personality test.  I used to have an email tag that read: "I disagree with everyone, sooner or later - it's part of my charm."

The A allele of the CLOCK gene SNP rs6832769 was associated with lessened agreeableness (p = 0.00000871) in a group of 3972 Sardinians. The effect remained significant in the replicative American sample, but failed to achieve significance in the Norwegian sample and third sample (though the combined p value remained significant at 0.000865). 
And I am an American with two A alleles.  It's not that I'm not capable of being agreeable - just don't expect me to agree with you automatically.  If you're someone who believes that a friend/lover should agree with you without checking out the situation, no matter what, then I'm not going to be a close pal of yours. In fact, push it and it is possible I will become your Devil Incarnate.  Luckily for me, my best friend treasures this trait, and considers it one of my more valuable contributions to humanity.

There is another gene SNP (rs1984362) which may also affect agreeableness, but exactly how has yet to be determined.

The G allele of SNAP25 gene SNP rs362584 was associated with increased neurotic traits (combined p value = 0.0000522) in a group of 3972 Sardinians, and two smaller replicative samples from the USA and Netherlands (the replicative samples were not significant by themselves, with the Netherlands sample showing considerably less of a trend)

Rs35753505 (SNP8NRG221533) is located within the 5'-flanking region of the NRG1 (Neuregulin 1) gene. g2b2mh blog rs35753505(C;C) correlates with frontal brain having to working harder during a working memory task. personality traits - C allele carriers associated with higher (NEO-FFI) scores of neuroticism and lower scores of conscientiousness in a sample of 523 healthy individuals The results suggest that subjects with risk alleles show hyperactivations in areas associated with elaborate episodic memory encoding and retrieval strategies.

I already referenced the rs35753505(C;T) SNP in the discussion of conscientiousness.  Between these two genes, it's understandable that I usually score between normal and high on neuroticism. 

Now, some of you may have read the NY Times piece on the Worrier-Warrior gene.  And you may be wondering, what version does she have?  Well, let me share the two SNPs that showed up in my results:

rs4680 (Val158Met) is a well studied SNP in the COMT gene. 23andMe blog summarizes them as *rs4680(A) = Worrier. Met, more exploratory, lower COMT enzymatic activity, therefore higher dopamine levels; lower pain threshold, enhanced vulnerability to stress, yet also more efficient at processing information under most conditions *rs4680(G) = Warrior. Val, less exploratory, higher COMT enzymatic activity, therefore lower dopamine levels; higher pain threshold, better stress resiliency, albeit with a modest reduction in executive cognition performance under most conditions

Probably one Warrior Gene and one non-Warrior Gene. Women with this combination usually have the 3 repeat MAOA Warrior Gene on one X chromosome and the 4 or 5 repeat MAOA non-Warrior Gene on the other X chromosome. 
And the answer is - I'm half and half, or a worrier-warrior, which in retrospect fits me perfectly.  I actually have several other genetic risk factors for anxiety; however, not for social anxiety.  It will be interesting to see what further research can reveal. But no matter what, I will always remember that it's up to me to decide how to use my genetic tendencies.  While they may have a 50% voice in my behavior, they are not the final word on it.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Few Things I Learned Cross-Referencing My Limited DNA Results with the SNPedia database.

Okay, in an effort to have some concrete data to show me, my sister Serena offered to pay for a saliva DNA test.  She explained that it couldn't conclusively prove gluten intolerance, but it was the only test she could get for me without scheduling an appointment with a doctor, which would have been difficult since we live in different states and I have a weird work schedule.  By the time my birthday/Christmas came around, I had already found my own concrete proof that she was correct, but she went ahead and ordered me the test anyway because I have an interest in geneology.

And it's been fun exploring those results; however, it's obvious that there is a lot more research to be done.  Many people with documented Native American ancestry, don't show up as Native American, for one thing.  And I don't come up as Asian, even though several genes that contribute to my skin-tone are more common in south-east Asia than anywhere else.*  Of course, the only sure genealogical lines you can test for is your matrilineal line - and if you're male, you have your patrilineal line also.  I know my patrilineal line only because my sister had our dad take the test and I got that information from him.

Anyway, I decided that since it was my DNA, I needed to have a copy of my raw results, so I could have it analyzed better in the future.  I had a heck of a time finding out how I could download that information. Scouring the forums, I found a site that could cross-reference your results with the SNPedia database, and visiting the site, I found the extremely easy instructions for downloading my own raw data.  A week later, after doing some research on my own, I ordered the report from the site.  I did this fully aware that this was not a reliable way to diagnose health issues.  But even if I didn't know that, it would have become very obvious that not every gene I had, had a say in my body's functioning:

1) For instance, I supposedly have a high risk of Alzheimer's.  A total shock, since there is NO record of it in my family history.  However, there are several genes involved in getting Alzheimer's, and while I have a few that increase my risk, I also have several other genes that decrease my risk - and they outnumber the ones that increase my risk 2 to 1.

2) Of all the diabetic risks I have genetically, the one that appears the most likely for me to have, never happened.  I never experienced gestational diabetes.  Nor did I have hypertension.  I did have very, very low blood pressure during both of my pregnancies.  Based on some other genetic results and the physical manifestation of them, I think another condition may have flared up during my pregnancies.

3) I supposedly have more genes protecting me from psoriasis, than making me susceptible for it.  I have physical proof on my body right this moment that the risk factors for it won over the protective ones.

On the other hand, there were many results that were so spot on that it was spooky.  I had to remind myself several time, "Of course, it is, Mandy. This is what determines that you have this trait."

1) I've been told that I have an Asian tint to my very fair skin.  As I stated earlier, my genealogical DNA results doesn't show this, yet my cross-referenced results shows my skin color to be a mix of European fair skin and Asian coloring.

2) I can definitely digest milk.  And low fat diets don't make me lose weight at all, which was part of the reason I lost faith in most diets.

3) I do have smaller than normal mosquito bites.

4) I need larger doses of several medicines before they are effective, but I need only half the amount of caffeine.  This is partly why I dislike going to a doctor for medicines.  I'm often better off not having some medicines, than only have them partially work.

I don't know who said it originally, but there is a saying that goes: "Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger."  By the same token, environment can jam the gun too.  At least that's what I assumed happened to a gene that usually makes people a little taller than average.  At 5'4", I'm literally the shortest person in my family of origin.  But I also was a very hard infant to feed.  My mother's stepmother finally got me on 2% milk somewhere between 6 and 9 months, and I stopped being colicky and started putting on some weight. Of course, I found that there are other genes involved in height, but it was not specified as to how they were in the report I currently have.  I'm sure more detail will be available as more research is done.

I also found out that my raw data had some holes in it.  I discovered this when I was investigating the genes involved in personality (which is a blog post in itself).  While my genes matched four of my Big Five personality results, the genotypes for the extroversion genes are missing.  I may re-do the test in a few years to see if I can get better results.

As for the gluten intolerance, it turns out I do have a few risk factors for Celiac's disease, some protective factors, and several that don't have enough data to make a clear conclusion with. But as I said, I have other solid proof of my gluten intolerance.  I may share a few of my other DNA discoveries in later blog posts.

*Found this through the Promethease report.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wayne Greene at Open Stage 10/14/13

This past year has been a rough one for me creativity-wise.  Lots of events to process and knowledge to become proficient at, with some re-evaluations thrown in for good measure.

I don't know the answer to the question my brother in-law poses in his song above.  But some days I feel as if I am about to become the woman he speaks of.  I realize that some of it is clinical depression, and I will often force myself to exercise that part of me, even if it's in a small and silly way, just to keep it moored to my soul. I would hate to lose my creative talents just because the demands of existence stole it from me.

The ironic thing is - I have some creative works that are all but finished for the past year and yet I can't just get myself to do the last few steps to finish them.  My mom was like that, but that was normal for her.  She told me once that she hated finishing projects because it was like they died and went away.  I'm not that way, though.  Unfinished projects to me are like survivors clinging to a life-raft, waiting to be rescue.  It's usually in the finishing of them that I find peace.

I guess I have some rescuing to do. But first I need to get over this stomach virus...

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Cabbage Rose

Cabbage Rose by mamaslyth
Cabbage Rose, a photo by mamaslyth on Flickr.

When I was little, my mom used to let me use her guitar oil pastels to draw with as a treat. A year ago, I inherited them, but I haven't drawn anything with them until tonight.

Monday, December 30, 2013

It has nothing to do with self-control.

After my mother's death, my sister Serena, a diagnostic bio-chemist, laid out her argument for why she felt my health issues may stem from problems with gluten.  I was resistant.  After all, I don't do fad diets and I have been eating stuff with gluten in it my whole life.  Okay, so I did show a symptom or two of Coeliac disease in my late 20s, but they went away after a day or two, and only reappeared on a yearly basis for a few years. And then there was that time when I tried to follow the old food pyramid for a week.  After two days, I literally had to crawl out of bed into the kitchen, because I was so weak and fatigued. I only ate protein and milk products that day to recover.

But gluten is a wonderful thing. It's filling. It makes food fluffy and tasty, and not crumbly. It's in a lot of cheap and easy to make food.  And most of all, it's practically ubiquitous. Not only is it in wheat, but it's also in barley, rye, and more food additives than you can shake a stick at.

However, when my sister actually offered to pay to have me tested for gluten sensitivity bio-markers, I realized how serious she was and how concerned she was.  I didn't start a gluten-free diet right away, but I started to be more aware of how much wheat I did eat.  Or more exactly, how much I preferred proteins over carbohydrates.  I was also coming to terms with the fact that for the past few years, I've been rapidly becoming weaker and more fatigued, to the point that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to care for myself in a few more years.

This last September, I spent several days with my sister, eating almost totally gluten-free during that time.  After a few days, I realized that I wasn't feeling as bloated and my brain was actually feeling a tad bit clearer.  I guess my body felt more improved in other ways too, because when I made the decision to eliminate gluten from my diet, it was surprisingly easy to turn down some of my favorite foods - KFC original recipe, M&Ms (dextrin comes from wheat), Coca Cola (caramel coloring), and malt-flavored stuff.  It was practically creepy. I did think ahead. I knew that if I was going to succeed at this, I had to find some easy foods to make because I knew I would have days when I wouldn't have the energy to fix meals from scratch. I found some good apps to use when I go shopping and out to eat. But hasn't been all smooth sailing. Like I said, wheat and gluten stuff is all over the place, and it's not cheap finding gluten-free foods.  But I've been slowly feeling life coming back to me. I'm not losing weight to my knowledge, but I'm gaining energy.

I've also had to be careful with my activity. I have a bad habit of over-doing it when I start feeling better.  Internally I go, "OMG! I'M HUMAN AGAIN! I'M GOING TO RECLAIM MY ENVIRONMENT AND BE ADEQUATE!"  Underneath this is the fear: "I need to get everything done while I still have the energy to do it!"  I usually end up not being able to move for three days.  During my vacation this month, I managed to pace myself until the second to last day, when I overdid it to finish my projects. And, yes, I paid for it. In my pained state, I ate some food with modified food starch because I was craving sugar - and I had to leave work because I became sick from it.

Still, it's awkward following a gluten-free diet, even when you don't inadvertently sabotage yourself.  Group meals are full of apologies on both sides.  I apologize for not tasting the wonderful dishes someone brings, and the other people apologizing for the lack of gluten-free food.  I usually bring some extra stuff for just me.  People keep asking me if I'm still doing it.  When I answer 'yes', they say things about how amazing my self-control is.  But the thing they don't understand is - it's not a matter of self-control.

Occasionally, I feel guilty and eat something with flour in it.  Now, even if you don't have a gluten intolerance, your body will have some problems eating gluten again, which is why your average person shouldn't really do a gluten-free diet.  I imagine that it's like when you eat beans only a few times a year:

I say "I imagine" it's like re-introducing beans to your diet, because the few times in the last two months that I have given in or accidentally eaten something with gluten in it, my experience has been drastically different:

When I eat gluten, at first, I only get a sour feeling in my stomach.  I feel groggy and a bit grumpy.  But the real fireworks start hours later, when the gluten reaches my intestines. Waking up in the middle of the night, feeling extremely nauseated and constipated, only to realize I have explosive diarrhea.  This lasts for several hours, as my body violently tries to expel the offending substance from it. Between the cramps, bloating, and migraine, time seems to move half as fast as normal.  During the worse attack, I woke up at 4 am and it wasn't until noon before I could leave the bathroom.

Like I said, it's not self-control; it's aversion conditioning at its finest.

And that's why I'm writing this blog post - to remind myself why I need to avoid gluten, when that sweet, well-meaning friend wants me to try their awesome homemade dish.  As much as I love my friends, it's not going to help anyone if I put myself through that torture.

As for the rest of you, diet however you like. While I would love to warn you against going on diets that are not specific for your metabolism, I have to admit that I would have even a harder time finding gluten-free prepared foods if it weren't for you.  You have no idea how torn I am over the fact that I actually have to follow a "fad" diet because of medical reasons.  But there you have it.  I may not have Coeliac's disease or even a wheat allergy (no histamine response), but I am gluten intolerant.  But at least now, I have hopes of becoming an energetic human being again.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A word about Prevention Protocol:

A lot of mental health issues are exacerbated because of stigma.  People shun others whose problems they don't understand.  People avoid asking for help for fear of being shunned.

Fighting stigma takes multiple approaches. Not just advocacy, but positive and accurate exploration through literature, art, and popular entertainment. Acceptance needs to be modeled, not just protested for. You need to show people what it looks like so they know what works.

Prevention Protocol is meant to show a solution, which in turn will make it easier for people to help when someone is suicidal at work.  Which is the main reason why it is free and will remain that way.

Hopefully, with time, I will write more stories that give people a better understanding of mental health issues in a non-threatening way.  I have a few in Scheherazade's Box and several sections about trauma and grief in A Tragic Tapestry, which I hope to have out soon.  Of course, the mental health issues are subplots, unlike the story in Prevention Protocol.

It is my hope that if people get exposed to mental health issues in non-stigmatized ways, they will take the lessons more to heart and be less fearful of the subject.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Free Book - Prevention Protocol

Prevention Protocol

A group of artificial intelligences seek reassurance after one of their human analysts emails a suicide letter to one of them before killing himself.

Would you know what to do if a coworker emailed a suicide note to you?