What is the MTHFR gene health, and why does it matter?
It means that the more you look after your diet, lifestyle, sleep, stress, toxins and do exercise, the more healthy your genes are. Just because you have a genetic change, it doesn’t mean there is a problem.
However, the more stress you have, the worse your diet is, and the more toxins you expose yourself to, the more likely you will have a problem with your genes. Your environment puts epigenetic tags on your genes and changes the way they act. In the case of the MTHFR gene, that might mean that you create less folate than you should.
MTHFR gene mutations have been associated with various adverse health conditions including increased homocysteine, risk of heart disease, and neural tube defects. This is why it’s so important to know if the MTHFR gene is a factor in your ill health.
Furthermore, knowing what you can do to keep your genes healthy may help prevent gene mutations from causing harm to your body.
In this article you’ll learn more about MTHFR polymorphisms and some of the associated effects and risks. Next, find a review of gene health and preventive steps you can take to keep your MTHFR gene healthy.
Effects Of An MTHFR Gene Change
Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene functions to code for the MTHFR enzyme that makes active folate (called methyl folate). Methyl folate assists in the methylation of homocysteine to form methionine.
Methionine is then converted to SAMe, which is the universal methyl donor in your body. Think of SAMe as your pharmacist. He gives everyone methyl groups that need it. And this involves hundreds of biochemical processes in the body.
Lack of methylation along with excess homocysteine are two factors that are responsible for blood vessel damage and blockage. This may result in heart disease or stroke, hormonal issues, fat metabolism, anxiety, depression, ADD, ADHD, immune dysfunction like ALS, Parkinsons like symptoms and other autoimmune deficiencies.
Increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables raises folate levels naturally and thereby may also lower homocysteine concentrations in the blood. When you eat more of these vegetables, you will build important methyl groups essential to your biochemical activities.
MTHFR SNPs may also influence vitamin B utilization and 5-MTHF production. Risks of lowered active folate and decreased cofactor activity may contribute to diseases like cardiovascular disease, depression and cancer. Age, folate and B12 levels, and smoking are risk factors for the rise in homocysteine concentrations. For more information regarding MTHFR, methylation and homocysteine, see What is MTHFR.
What Do We Mean By Gene Health?
Since genes are responsible for the production of enzymes that regulate your metabolism and therefore metabolic health, it is important to keep your genes in a healthy state. Genetic variation is seen in every individual and therefore also makes it possible for mutations to occur.
Basically these variations are epigenetics – the focus in alterations made to the expression of genes, such as when polymorphisms are expressed and down regulations occur (see more about down regulation below). While you can’t do anything about the genes you inherit, you can change the way they act.
When you have a virus, a bacterial infection, are exposed to mold, consume a bad diet, encounter constant stress, or lack sleep, little tags can attach to your genes causing their function to change.
Genetic mutations are basically a change in the DNA sequence than most of the population has expressed. These different SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms) make the MTHFR enzyme work slower. otherwise known as a down regulation.
Down regulations to metabolic activity, especially in multiple down regulatory events, severely impact conversion of folate and other essential metabolites and nutrients that are paramount to the natural cycles in the body. If the MTHFR gene slows down, it can affect the MTHFR enzyme and make it work slower.
Ultimately, a slower responding MTHFR gene and MTHFR enzyme means less active folate in your system. This may affect the normal, healthy functioning of every cell in the body. However, as previously mentioned, genetic mutations are often inactive until an environmental stressor impacts the expression of the gene.
Therefore, your gene health depends on your efforts to maintain healthy genes through the avoidance or prevention of events or substances that might influence your genes over the long-term . So, taking preventive measures is important in helping to reduce the risks of unhealthy genes.
11 Steps To Take To Ensure A Healthy MTHFR Gene
There are a number of measures to take to prevent environmental stressors to affect healthy MTHFR functioning in the presence of polymorphisms. Some steps to consider to keep your MTHFR gene healthy include:
- Do not take medications that may influence vitamin B9 (folate) inhibiting drugs, such as birth control pills. Pills such as the oral contraceptives or methotrexate may block or deplete folate, preventing further conversion. (In cancer, however, methotrexate is important as it stops the folate cycle. This is to avoid proliferation of cells. If you are taking methotrexate for autoimmune conditions, it’s important to take additional folate away from your drug).
- Avoid the use of proton pump inhibitors, including antacids. Omeprazole and other antacids could block vitamin B12 absorption due to their properties as proton pump inhibitors. This is because they decrease hydrochloric acid levels which is vital for B12 absorption.Without sufficient B12, you cannot use the methyl groups you do have.
- Use nutrient supplements to increase vitamin B levels and probiotics. With diets the way they are today, people are not getting the same nutrients levels in their foods. Much of the food available is genetically modified, sits in cold storage and containers for months or even years, and the soil it grows in is depleted of key nutrients. That’s why it’s incredibly important to supplement with your Vitamin B’s, particularly in times of sickness and high stress. These supplements may well prevent your active folate falling too low to affect the methylation cycle.
- Avoid processed foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Synthetic folic acid, harmful additives and hormone-rich meats may exacerbate existing health conditions due to genetic mutations. Also, eating animals fed with highly inflammatory grains is not the best option. Instead choose grass fed animal products.
- Reduce any heavy metal exposure. Heavy metals and toxic substances, including aluminium in cookware, could drastically increase the risks and effects of MTHFR and other SNPs. This makes a difference since many people with MTHFR gene polymorphisms also have a low glutathione level (glutathione is our major antioxidant) and are then going to find it harder to detoxify most things, especially heavy metals.
- Know your homocysteine levels. It is vital to know what your blood homocysteine levels are because you don’t want them too high or too low-too low and you’ll have a reduction of SAMe and methyls; too high an you may have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Consume foods rich in folate and methionine. Leafy green vegetables are good examples of foods that are rich in dietary folate. Make sure you include these at most meals. Lack of natural folate and SAMe also means lack of added methyl groups, which may result in various health conditions including neurological disorders.
- Regularly Detox. Detoxing, which includes saunas, sweating, fasting and regular exercise, is a great way to keep your body healthy and to prevent toxic build-up.
- Seek advice from health professionals. Make sure you maintain your body. You get your car serviced each year, so make sure you are getting blood tests on the same schedule. Keep an eye on your blood pressure, thyroid function, and key nutrients like zinc, copper, and iodine. If you are not feeling well and you don’t feel your current health practitioner is helping you as much as they should, then consider finding a new practitioner who will assist you further on your healing journey.
- Stress. Remember to keep stress under control because it destroys your methyl groups more than anything else. Often we see people in a hyper-stressed state and they cannot turn it off, because they don’t have enough methyls to do that. Do whatever you need to do to keep stress under control. Consider meditation, yoga, deep breathing, walking, socialising or time to yourself in nature. These can all be important factors to reduce stress levels naturally.
- Consider genetic testing through Ancestry.com. Your genes can give you some clues as to where you susceptibility lies. Remember it’s not all about the genes, but how the environment you surround yourself with affects your genes. For more information on genetic testing, be sure to read Genetic Testing: What You Need to Know.
How You Can Shape Your MTHFR Gene Health
Just like everything, we need to keep our genes healthy.
Even though you may have been born with a gene that’s different from the majority of the general population, it doesn’t absolutely mean you will have issues. Those who do have made environmental choices resulting in gene reactions.
MTHFR is a crucial gene in the methylation cycle, which is instrumental to good health. When you choose to improve methylation, you can improve health. Some helpful quick tips to follow to do so include:
- Maintain a healthy environment clear of exposure to heavy metals or molds
- Take precautions to reduce or eliminate most life stressors
- Eat whole, natural and organic foods rich in folate and methionine
- Supplement with the proper B vitamins
- Know your MTHFR gene status
- Test your homocysteine levels
You can improve and excitingly, reverse epigenetic tags that cause your genes to function differently. Sometimes it’s our parents’ preconception practice that set this pathway for us. That’s why preconception planning is THE most important thing we can do for our children.