As part of this health jaunt I have undertaken over the past couple of years, I was diagnosed as positive for the MTHFR gene mutation. It has not been my only diagnosis, but it has certainly contributed to my belief that:
1) gluten is the devil (for me, anyway). I will never knowingly eat gluten again, and;
2) along with careful supplementation prescribed by my functional health peeps, the autoimmune protocol is the foundation approach I am taking to reset my body’s equilibrium to ‘optimal’.
The Natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well. (Hippocrates)
MTHFR is one of the more recent genetic buzzwords. And, I suspect we’ll be seeing a bit more of it as more and more people test positive for variations of the gene. It’s a bit of a minefield to work your way through, especially if you don’t have a science background. But, with approximately 1 in 2 people having a MTHFR defect, it’s a significant issue.
On Wednesday evening, LM and I tootled off to navigate our way through the pokies at the North Sydney Leagues Club. We went to listen to a talk about the MTHFR gene by naturopath and founder of MTHFR Support Australia, Carolyn Ledowsky.
Honestly? – Carolyn gave the clearest explanation of the very complex MTHFR process that I have come across to date. And, that is saying something, because as you know – I am no science nerd.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
MTHFR stands for methylene-tetrahydrofolate reductase.
It is an important enzyme that converts the folate you eat, by way of all those leafy green vegetables, into the active form – called 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate. This conversion is called methylation. It is essential for our cells to function. All of them. Every single one.
Sidebar: It’s also important to recognise that folate is Vitamin B9 and is not the same as folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic, man-made substance and is not found in nature. In fact, if you have a MTHFR gene mutation, folic acid can be very bad for your health. And since most of the bread we eat is fortified with the stuff, it’s yet another reason to steer clear of gluten.
But, how do I know if I should get tested for MTHFR?
Good question. And, to be honest – there are far more capable people out there than me to answer it. In a nutshell, if you suffer from a variety of symptoms and – no matter what you do – nothing seems to work to make them better, you may have MTHFR. Perhaps something to discuss with your GP?
Here are just some of the illnesses associated with MTHFR:
In my particular case, I had a chronic autoimmune condition, allergies, (unrealised) anxiety, poor detoxification AND some challenges shifting my weight.
Within the MTHFR gene, there can be a number of mutations. The two key deviations currently tested for are MTHFR C677T and MTHFR A1298C.
If you test positive for the gene, you will have a permutation of the following:
I’m compound heterozygous. So for me, that means, with an estimated 50% loss of methylation function, I want to do everything I can to improve my methylation.
Working with your medical team is obviously the first step in working out what, if any, supplementation you may require. And, this is not the same for everyone.
But, it doesn’t stop there.
There are Other Factors that Affect Your Methylation Process…
Poor diet – Turns out your Mum was right. Eat your greens! You need to eat plenty of leafy greens to get adequate levels of vitamins. Long term vegan diets can be a problem because you’re not getting B12 from things like egg yolks, meat, liver, and oily fish. Another issue is raised levels of homocysteine (which depletes all those good B vitamins). This can be caused by excess animal protein, sugar, the wrong fats, too much coffee, and alcohol. And, of course – steer clear of foods that contain folic acid (that’s most packaged, gluten containing foods).
Smoking – I’m an ex smoker. Boy, do I regret that habit now. The carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke deactivates vitamin B6.
Toxins and Chemicals – unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that we are exposed to more and more toxins in everyday life. Making an effort to minimise these as far as possible – limit the use of plastics, eat more organic food, taking care with our household cleaning goods – are all small steps that can have a big impact on our health.
Malabsorption – Food allergies, digestive problems, and even getting older can affect our ability to absorb the nutrients from our food.
Decreased stomach acid – Aging and a variety other conditions (including vegetarianism) can reduce stomach acid — and therefore affect our ability to absorb vitamin B12
Medications – certain drugs can affect your levels of B vitamins. It is important that you discuss this with your doctor.
Stress - really bad for your methylation. REALLY. Start a regular yoga practise. Meditate. Start tai chi. Anything that works for you to mitigate stress.
As part of my journey back to optimal health, I’m following the autoimmune protocol - a nutrient-rich elimination diet that removes foods that irritate the gut, cause gut imbalance and activate the immune system. It also involves actively working on stress management, improving my sleep, moving, spending time in nature and just getting a little more zen about life. It’s working for me, too.
If you would like to learn more about MTHFR or MTHFR Support Australia, they have a great (free!) video detailing how MTHFR can affect your life. They also hold monthly information evenings if you happen to live in Sydney.