What does this gene do? Warrior or worrier?
The COMT gene plays an important role in the nervous system as it is important in regulating chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and adrenaline. It does this by deactivating these chemicals by adding a methyl group (CH3) to them, another example of this important process called methylation which is a common on/off switch used in the body.
If lots of the COMT enzyme is around then after dopamine and adrenaline surges the body is able to efficiently switch these chemicals back off again, if there is less COMT then this process drags on a bit longer effectively meaning the “body boost button” is pressed for longer. COMT is inhibited by quercetin and tea catechins so if you have AA type then you may want to avoid green tea. This gene has been described as the “worrier or warrior gene”. Warriors (GG 26%) have higher levels of COMT so they handle stress and pain better. Worriers (AA 26%) have a poorer ability to handle stress however the higher levels of dopamine may mean a higher cognitive level. Both have their positive and negative sides. COMT function is decreased by oestrogen meaning women have a 30% higher baseline level of dopamine which is close to the optimum level. .
A variant in the COMT gene, reduces the activity of the enzyme. This may result in higher levels of oestrogen in the body. In addition, If COMT is not working optimally it also has been associated with conditions or disorders that are linked to suboptimal levels of brain chemicals such as anxiety.
The A allele is the risk allele for COMT genetic variant. An A allele result is associated with risk factors related to diabetes, heart disease and strokes. It’s been associated with higher stress (dopamine) levels, increasing vulnerability to stress and lower pain threshold.
The AA genotype is linked to 3 – 4 times reduced COMT enzyme activity and is seen at the highest frequency in the European population, 25%
The G allele is beneficial as there is an association with higher COMT activity. This could possibly result in lower dopamine levels, higher pain threshold and better resilience when it comes to stress. The GG genotype is observed at the highest frequency in Asians, 58% and African Americans, 48%.