Decoding Teen Mood Swings: The Role of the COMT Enzyme
Lots of things influence a teen's mood but I want to introduce you to the COMT enzyme because it's one of them.
What I write about here doesn't just apply to teens - it applies to all of us and all of our kids - but since the teen years are so tumultuous, and because COMT activity can be influenced by hormones, I think it's particularly helpful for parents to understand this during the teen years.
What is COMT?
COMT is short for Catechol-O-methyl-transferase. It's the main enzyme involved in regulating dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine - a group of neurotransmitters called The Catecholamines, or The CATs.
Methylation, inflammation, certain gut bacteria, and magnesium are just some of the things that influence how COMT does its job. Genetics play an important role as well.
About The CATs
Dopamine is a main catecholamine associated with focus, attention, and a get-up-and-go attitude. It should be in about a 2:1 ratio with serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter, for a person to feel strong, resilient, and emotionally flexible.
Norepinephrine is created from dopamine. This is mostly excitatory in nature but also modulatory of the stress response. It is associated with focus, concentration, and the "fight-flight" stress response.
Epinephrine is also a derivative of dopamine and is excitatory in nature. This one is tightly connected to our stress response
Understanding the Norepi to Epi ratio can tell us how well the body is converting Norepi to Epi, giving a bit of an insight into genetic tendencies, adrenal function, and methylation. This is a ratio we look for on a urinary Neurotransmitter test.
How Fast vs Slow COMT Activity Influences Temperament
COMT works to regulate the flow of Catecholamines through the brain and body.
Some kids have a genetic tendency for fast COMT activity making them prone to low CATs, and some tend toward slow activity making them prone to high CATs. It's a marker we look at as part of our Resilience DNA panel.
Knowing their COMT tendency can help your moody teen understand why they feel the way they feel and what steps they can take to feel differently if that's what they want.
Here are some patterns we see....
When CATs are high a child is prone to getting "stuck" in moods. They can get anxious, obsessive, angry, and depressed, especially when the environment feels out of control or they feel powerless
They might appear introverted because they don't like too much stimulation or they may seem extraverted because the high CATs make them feel restless.
High CATs correlate with overwhelm and the negative effects of chronic stress.
A genetic tendency for slow COMT activity can lead to high CATs. So can lack of magnesium, B12, folate, or vitamin C, high clostridia species in the gut, too much stress and inflammation.
When CATs are low a child might seem more "chill" or apathetic or, they may crave things that give them a dopamine hit like fast sports, adrenaline-inducing activity, or video games. Low CATs are associated with mood swings and low motivation
People with low CATs tend to be highly creative and full of ideas but can struggle with follow-through. They can easily feel dysregulated and depleted. They may have poor attention, memory, concentration, depression, and pain.
A genetic tendency for fast COMT activity can lead to low CATs.
What Does This Have To Do With Puberty?
It turns out that Testosterone can speed up the COMT activity while Estrogen can slow it down.
As I say, lots is going on inside the teen body but this hormonal influence on COMT might help explain why teen boys often experience symptoms relating to low CATs (ie dopamine seeking) while teen girls may be more prone to symptoms of high CATs (aka anxiety and stress).
When we understand our kids we can help them
Lots of things influence your child's mood. This is just one. What's most important is that kids start to understand their bodies. When they understand their tendencies we can equip them with strategies to shift how they feel and function.
This can be helpful insight if your child is experiencing symptoms related to Catecholamines like: ADHD, Anxiety, panic attacks, blood pressure fluctuations, headaches/migraines, sleep troubles, irritability, aggression, depression, fatigue, poor concentration or memory, low motivation, even unexplained weight gain.
You can get some insight into your child's COMT through a simple genetic test. We now offer the Resilience DNA panel through our Kids' Wellness Clinic. It's a great way to help your child understand their body.
How To Get Started: https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/child-mental-health
About Neurotransmitters: https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/neurotransmitter-testing-for-kids
Supporting Methylation: https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/is-adhd-a-methylation-problem
About Pyrroles and Anxiety: https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/could-your-childs-anxiety-be-a-pyrrole-disorder