What exactly is MTHFR and why on earth is everyone talking about it? I feel compelled to write a post on this because quite frankly, I’m frustrated with the information that’s out there right now on this topic. MTHFR is short for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase and it is a single nucleotide polymorphism, also known as a snp (pronounced “snip”), but sometimes called a “mutation”. This last term is far more scary and far less accurate than the one I’ll use, SNP. The MTHFR snp can cause problems with methylation and enzyme production and it’s estimated that 20-50% of the general population carries some variation of it, with some variations being more problematic and severe than other. Researchers have found that the prevalence of diseases such as ADHD, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders and autism are higher in those with MTHFR. Clearly this is something to pay attention to but my frustration lies in the oversimplification I”m seeing in the general media not only of MTHFR, but genetics in general. Every time I hear someone say “oh you have MTHFR? Take a methylated B vitamin instead of folic acid!” I want to SCREAM “nooooo!”. I mean yes, you should take a methylated form not a folic acid form (and to be honest no one, even those without this particular snp, should take folic acid because it’s synthetic crap and it’s just not that usable for our bodies) BUT and here’s the big giant problem I have:
It is SO much more complicated than taking one supplement for one snp.
Did you know 23andme report generate info on thousand of snps? And even that is just a snapshot of what’s going on in our bodies. And did you also know that our bodies have feedback loops where various genes affect other genes? It’s not just one little gene floating around on an island doing it’s own thing. There’s lots of genes and they regularly interact with each other. And believe me, you better know what your downstream genes are doing before you up regulate your upstream genes in that feedback loop people. You can’t just go around willy nilly up regulating stuff not knowing what will happen. It’s like when a little kid gets in an elevator and sees buttons and presses every darn one. If he presses the one for your floor you’re like ok that’s cool…but when he hits the alarm button and all hell breaks loose you’re like dude, why would you do that? You know why he did that? HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS DOING. And that’s what happens when you randomly treat one snp and ignore the others. It’s like pressing elevator buttons when you’re not quite what they do.
On top of the fact that there are loads of interrelated genes there’s the whole pesky concept of epi-genetics. This concept basically means that while genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger. You can have potentially problematic polymorphisms but NO ACTUAL PROBLEMS if the environment your genes are in doesn’t pull that trigger. One example of what might pull a trigger is toxin overloads from acute toxic mold exposure or aluminum and lead in makeup, PBAs and PCBs in plastics, flame retardants in couches, pesticides sprayed on foods, additives and adjuvants in vaccines, and more. Another big trigger puller is nutrition; if your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio is out of balance you are more likely to develop a host of diseases with a genetic basis, or if you’re vegan you may be severely malnourished in the areas of B12, zinc, iron, and copper which again pulls on that trigger. Trust me when I say this is a teeny tiny fraction of the ways the trigger can be pulled. The good news portion of this doomsday paragraph is that by optimizing your diet, lifestyle, and environment you can keep those triggers from being pulled over and over again and improve the quality of your life.
I’m no genetic expert over here or anything (Ben Lynch is though, you should totally go see what he has to say for more info on this important topic!) but I know enough to have an informed and empowered discussion with my Doctor so we can formulate a plan together on how we’re going to get a handle on some of my cruddy genetics. Yes it’s true, yours truly was blessed with terrible genes AND terrible environmental circumstances as a child to trigger said terrible genes. So I have to work HARD at being healthy and overcoming the hand I was dealt. What I used to look at as a “no fair!” scenario I now see as enlightening and empowering. Through investigating my own health I have learned so much about how to help myself and how to help others. I highly recommend you do the same. You can do what I did and go back to school and study your brains out, or you can check out Ben Lynch and other experts and mildly acquaint yourself with these types of things, or you can hire a health coach like myself to help guide you through the mine field also known as health and wellness. I know the concept of knowing your genetics can seem scary but under the right guidance it doesn’t have to be.
Whatever you chose, make sure you’re informed on what those elevator buttons do before you start pushing them.