MTHFR and How Nutrigenomics Can Help
Every person is different and this is a product of nature (your DNA) and nurture (your environment). What's new and interesting about the DNA peice is both the availbility of testing your DNA and the ability to optimize how bodies function based on the DNA. This is especially true with the MTHFR mutation and other mutations like this. You may think that everyone makes biochemical molecules exatly the same but that is not true. The template is the same, but each person has slight alterations in the template (the DNA) creating differences in how biochemical molecules are produced and destroyed. These differences are partially what makes us unique. However, some of these alterations can also predispose people to certain health issues and MTHFR and food allergies are common examples of these.
Recently, we here at Southwest Integrative Medicine explained the MTHFR variation in a case study on nutrigenomics (nutrition on genetics) and MTHFR. The idea behind Nutrigenomics is that specific vitamins, nutrients, and diet alterations can be used to improve a person’s health when looking from the persective of alterations in their genetic makeup.
Due to the holistic and individualized nature of Nutrigenomics, it has become a very popular alternative to traditional Western medicine for individuals with many different health conditions like mental health, fibromyalgia, headaches, and autoimmune diseases. When done properly, treatment for a mutation of the gene Methyltetrahydrofolate Reductase, or MTHFR (for readability sake), can help mitigate autoimmune disorders.
Today, we will be going over just how Nutrigenomics can help people afflicted by an MTHFR gene mutation. Before we do, let’s first take a closer look at DNA.
What is DNA?
When diving into the complexities of MTHFR, understanding what DNA is helps paint a better picture of how the genetic alterations occur across our population. Deoxyribonucleic Acid, or DNA, is made up of base pairs, like, guanine, cytosine, adenine thymine. The "double helix" of DNA is created by these base pair bonding together. Different combinations and sequences of these base pairs create the genetic code that tells our body which protein(s) to make and how to make them. When a change occurs in a base pair sequences from the normal, you get a different protein. That one change can cause a slightly different protein or a majorly different protein. It all depends on the spatial configuration of the molecule, but in any case, the change in base pairs will change the shape of the protein.
What is MTHFR?
A big part of the "altered proteins" we are referring to are enzymes. Not really the enzymes in the digestive tract, per say, but the enzymes that help the body create and destroy different molecules inside the body. MTHFR is an enzyme produced by the MTHFR genes, and is part of a bigger process called methylation. In basic terms, the process of methylation changes the activity level of a variety of different molecules. Methylation is critical for things like neurotransmitter production, cell membrane integrity, detoxifcation, energy efficiency and utilization, artery responsiveness.
Alterations in the MTHFR enzyme interrupt the methylation cycle because it is a critical enzyme for methylation. The severity of the enzyme change will determine how slowed the methylation process is. There are two main MTHFR genes, that when altered, impact the enzymes function. However, there are several other enzymes in the process of methylation that can also effect the overall cycle as well.
Types of MTHFR MutationTwo genes have the predominant effect on the MTHFR enzyme, and they are the C677T gene and the 1298C gene. The purpose of distinguishing these two mutations is so that doctors are better able to see the severity of the MTHFR mutation. The C677T mutation is the biggest influencer on the overall effects on the MTHFR gene.
Homozygous: This gene is passed down from both of the parents of the afflicted individual leaving them with two altered copies.
Heterozygous: MTHFR mutation is passed from just one of the parents.
Compound Heterozygous: One mutation is passed from one parent, and the other respective parent passes the other.In this case the affliced individual has one copy of each of the above stated MTHFR genes.
Symptoms of an MTHFR Defect
Due to the fact that an MTHFR defect causes abnormalities in normal processes of the human body, there are a wide variety of symptoms or side effects that can be triggered by it. For example, an MTHFR defect often causes high levels of homocysteine, which is associated with the following;
High blood pressure
There is also strong evidence linking it to mental health disorders, migraines, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, and many other health issues due to a slow down in methylation.
How Nutrigenomics Works
Nutrigenomics looks at how the actual bioactive components in food can help or hurt your health based on the specific genes in an individual. Optimizing the gene nutrition interaction can make a dramatic impact in how a person’s body goes through metabolic and physiological processes.
Simple Nutrigenomics Steps For MTHFR Gene Mutation
Since Nutrigenomics works on an individual’s health with a mixture of their genetics and nutrition, here are some tips for minimizing the issues associated with an MTHFR mutation:
Avoid Folic Acid
When you have an MTHFR defect, folic acid is one such vitamin that your body cannot process. In addition, when you consume folic acid it binds up all the active-folate carrier proteins and making the amount of usable active-folate reserves even worse. Many grains are fortified with folic acid so these should be avoided.
Invest in a Healthy Gut
The very nature of an MTHFR gene mutation is that your body is unable to process and eliminate a lot of everyday toxins within the body. Therefore, aiding your digestive tract can lessen the effects of toxins caused by the MTHFR mutation. Try probiotic foods like homemade broths and yogurt or supplements like probiotics and avoid processed grains and refined sugars.
Say No to Processed Foods
Especially being physicians that specialize in integrative medicine, we cannot express enough, the negative effects of processed foods. Dealing with an MTHFR mutation is no exception to this sentiment because it will have a negative impact on points one and two above.
Eat Plenty of Greens
As physicians, we will always promote eating healthy greens, but for an individual with a gene mutation, eating uncooked dark leafy greens (DLG) give your body a source of active folate, plus all the other benefits that DLG have.
Detox, Detox, Detox
The process of methylation is needed for detoxifcation of the body from numerous chemicals. This is happening whether you want it to or not. When methylation is impaired, the toxins build up or get eliminated through alternative pathways. By enhancing the natural detoxifcation pathways that you do have control of, you reduce the methylation burden on the body and improve how everything works. There are several methods for eliminating toxins that people with or without this gene mutation practice on a daily basis. Sitting in a sauna or steam room, drinking plenty of water, body scrubs, exercise, healthy bowel movements and colonics are ways to aid your body in the detoxification process.
An alarming 40% - 60% of the population is affected by a MTHFR Gene Mutation. By getting a genetic test to determine your genetic make-up, and adhering to some of the tips we’ve laid out, you can lessen the impact this mutation has on your everyday life and well being.
Many people will greatly benefit from working will a physician that specializes in MTHFR and similar genetic issues. To learn more about nutrigenomics and how an MTHFR might be effecting your health, contact our team at Southwest Integrative Medicine, today.