Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Aldehydes and Alcohol

Dr. Andrew July 18, 2023

Although gut bacteria get a lot of press these days, other gut bugs need our attention as well. Among these non-bacterial gut creatures, Candida albicans is definitely the most important. The reason Candida has such a major impact on our methylation pathways has to do with the fact that this particular gut bug produces large amounts of aldehydes and alcohols.21, 22 Yeasts such as Candida produce toxic molecules, which are similar in shape and function to formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing toxin used in thousands of products. As you will learn in chapter 11, aldehydes are not produced only by yeasts such as Candida, but they are also produced when our body breaks down the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. It is safe to say that everyone comes into contact with aldehydes and we must all detoxify them daily.

The bigger problem with these chemicals is that they harm our DNA and our methylation-related pathways. For many years, researchers have been aware of the toxic nature of aldehydes. Studying these volatile organic chemicals gets into some pretty complicated chemistry that can make your head spin. For the purposes of our discussion, I don’t need to get into too much detail. What you need to understand is that aldehydes are toxic because they can break DNA, alter the shape of proteins, speed up the aging process, and ultimately lead to cancer formation.23 Although these yeasts and industrial toxins can potentially harm cells all over our body, the liver is the organ that bears the brunt of aldehyde toxicity.24 The liver does so many things to keep us healthy and feeling optimum that any lack of liver function, any biochemical roadblocks that build up inside this amazing organ, can greatly impact our health. Remember that the liver is the most important organ of detoxification and it also houses a majority of our critical methylation pathways. This is why studying methylation so intensely has led me to look at the gut as a major source of methylation-related problems. With a sick, unbalanced gut environment, every component of liver function will be impaired.

Giving support to these ideas, a research team published a report in 2011 that highlighted the ways that aldehydes damage the liver. In this study, researchers looked at the aldehydes produced by smoking cigarettes—which, by the way, are chemically identical to the aldehydes produced by yeast in our gut. What they discovered was that aldehydes deplete the liver of sulfur antioxidants, leading first to autoimmune inflammation and then ultimately to cell death.25 Clearly, you don’t have to be a biochemist to know that aldehydes are a very toxic thing for the body. In fact, these chemicals are so toxic that scientists have recently shown how Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are both caused in part by toxic aldehydes released during dopamine breakdown inside the brain.26, 27 The fact that aldehydes not only injure the liver, but also impair brain function, helps us to see how chemicals from the gut can cause a wide range of health problems.

Given the link between aldehydes that are produced by Candida and the development of Parkinson’s disease, we have to wonder if these two phenomena are related. And the research suggests this is a real possibility. A study published in the journal Clinical Chemistry in 2008 describes how aldehydes combine with dopamine to form salsolinol, a toxin involved in the destruction of dopamine neurons.28 This research shows that the more aldehydes are produced, the more salsolinol is produced and the less dopamine is produced. For people dealing with challenges of Parkinson’s, anything that lowers dopamine levels and increases toxins inside neurons is a threat. Although this just scratches the surface of the connection between Parkinson’s and aldehydes, it is fascinating that a common gut toxin produced by a common gut bug can cause a chronic brain disease. If you ever needed evidence to look at gut health in anyone with a brain problem, here it is!

Aldehydes aren’t just going to damage cells and impair the liver’s detoxification system. They will also have a huge impact on the methylation cycle and the function of important genetic pathways. These volatile organic chemicals will interfere with the methylation cycle in a couple of ways. First, aldehydes from Candida are known to inhibit the methionine synthase enzyme (MTR), which is required for the recycling of homocysteine and the production of SAMe.29, 30 This is a serious issue, because when SAMe levels drop, our methylation capacity will slow down.

Slow methylation is related to a host of health problems, from chemical sensitivity, depression, heart disease, and chronic fatigue, to autoimmune disease and cancer. The entire purpose of this book is to help you optimize your genes by supporting optimum methylation in every cell and in every organ. Slowing down methionine synthase due to high aldehyde levels will negatively impact your methylation cycle. And since many people reading this book already have untreated methylation pathway problems, any excess yeast in the gut will make methylation pathways even weaker.

The other way aldehydes interfere with methylation comes from the fact that they are derived from ethanol. In other words, when the body has a problem with yeast and aldehydes, it also has a problem with alcohol, since both chemicals are produced by Candida in large quantities. Ethanol can harm our methylation cycle in much the same way as aldehydes. Ethanol not only interferes with the absorption of vitamin B9 in the gut, but it also shuts down the MTR enzyme, leading to elevated homocysteine and poor methylation across the board.31 And, unfortunately for our methylation cycle, aldehydes and alcohol are both broken down by the exact same enzymes that break down histamine, serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline. When two molecules compete for the same parking space (like the phenols discussed earlier in this chapter), it slows the breakdown of those molecules, causing symptoms and upsetting the methylation pathways.

The ethanol produced by Candida leaks into the body and is converted to an aldehyde in the liver by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). Then the toxic aldehyde—whether produced directly from yeast or converted from ethanol—is further broken down into vinegar (acetic acid) by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).32 On the surface, this information wouldn’t be earth-shattering all by itself. But like so many critical pathways in the body, both the ADH and ALDH enzymes depend on NAD/vitamin B3 to function.

As you can see in Figure 7.1, these two enzymes are a critical part of our neurotransmitter cycle. Ultimately, the more aldehydes and ethanol produced by yeasts in the gut, the more NAD is lost from the body. Since you know how important NAD is for our mitochondrial health, you can see that aldehydes will create problems for our mitochondria. Not exactly a health positive situation!

Figure 7.1 – Dopamine, adrenaline, serotonin, Candida toxins and histamine all share the same ALDH and ADH detoxification enzymes. Slowing down the ALDH and ADH enzymes can cause increased symptoms as the body struggles to detoxify these neurotransmitters.

I want to reiterate that we have a shared pathway between histamine and aldehydes in the liver. Many of my patients have symptoms of histamine intolerance and are unaware that their gut is the main source of their histamine problem. Histamine is actually a neurotransmitter, and when the gut is unhealthy and the liver overburdened, histamines can cause a lot of symptoms. Problems from high histamines vary widely, from headache, insomnia, diarrhea, and asthma, to low blood pressure, heart palpitations, flushing, swelling, and of course itching.33, 34

With a list of symptoms that long and diverse, it’s easy to see how histamines could be a hidden cause of chronic, complex health issues. Just as we see with methylation problems, there is a lack of awareness in the healthcare community about histamine problems. Because of this, patients who are looking for root causes to their ill health often must do their own research to discover they have a problem with histamines. In fact, I have learned more about histamines from my patients’ own experiences than anything else. If only more patients were encouraged to find their own answers, healthcare would drastically improve!

The key take-away here is to be aware that gut problems in the form of Candida infections will likely increase sensitivity to histamines because of shared detoxification pathways with dopamine, serotonin, aldehydes, and adrenaline. As you saw in Figure 7.1, alcohol and aldehydes produced by yeast put pressure on the ADH and ALDH enzymes, leaving less room for histamines to be processed and cleared from our bodies. If this happens for a short period, the body will adapt without symptoms. However, over time, the levels of histamine will rise and the levels of NAD will fall. As histamine levels rise, the body will have to use more of its methylation savings account to get rid of the histamine. The more histamine the body must deal with, the less methylation support is available for optimum brain function, digestion, energy, and repair. This is why getting rid of Candida by following the advice in this book is so essential to long-term health.

Basically, people with a Candida problem are more likely to have allergic reactions, seasonal allergies, and a low tolerance for stress. Because aldehydes, histamine, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline each get metabolized through the aldehyde detox pathway, excess aldehydes cause increased levels of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. This is a recipe for anxiety, worry, panic, pain, heart palpitations, sweating, insomnia, and more. When you also realize that a majority of the population also has methylation SNPs, it begins to make sense that so many people are having trouble feeling well. If we treat the gut first and then move on to fixing our other challenges, we will get much better results.